Sephora has gotten itself into hot water in the wake of a 20 percent off sale in early November that wound up crashing its site. Four women of Chinese descent have filed a class action suit against the beauty retailer and LVMH, its parent company, for discriminating against minority customers — in this case, deactivating and blocking accounts of shoppers "of perceived Chinese/Asian descent based on the ill-founded and discriminatory belief that all Chinese/Asian customers abuse discount sales to enagage in bulk purchase for re-sale."
Yep. That does not sound good.
According to the court filing, the Sephora site crashed on Nov. 6, preventing any customers from accessing their accounts or making purchases, but later that evening the site was back up and running. As the retailer explained things on its Facebook site, the malfunctioning owed to "high levels of bulk buys for reselling purposes in North America and other countries" and a number of accounts it believed to be associated with that activity remained suspended.
You can see where this is going: According to the plaintiffs, the blocked accounts belonged to "email addresses with names that appeared to signify Chinese/Asian race/ethnicity/national origin/descent" or web domains originating in China or Asia. Hence the suit, which the four women — Xiao Xiao, Man Xu, Jiali Chen and Tiantian Zou — filed in the Southern District of New York U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
Sephora has a slightly different take on things. Here's a statement sent to Fashionista by a rep for the company:
"This lawsuit significantly distorts the facts in this matter. We look forward to defending our actions in court. Among other points, we intend to make very clear that clients from a number of countries around the world have been impacted by a temporary block we needed to place on accounts in order to restore the functionality of our site during a surge of activity by resellers during a promotional event two weeks ago."
Needless to say, we'll be watching to see how this all goes down. In the meantime, Sephora's going to have to figure out a good PR strategy to mitigate this unfortunate claim.