"Color Line: Polo Ralph Lauren Wrestles With the Issue of Race" by Teri Agins (2002)

NEW YORK -- Fashion magnate Ralph Lauren says he first became aware of racial tension within his company after an incident in 1997 at a Long Island sportswear boutique.

A regional manager with Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. dropped by the new Polo Sport store in anticipation of an inspection by an important visitor: Jerome Lauren, Ralph's older brother and the executive overseeing Polo menswear. The Roosevelt Field Mall where the boutique was located attracts a middle-class, racially integrated clientele. But the regional manager concluded that the store's ambiance was too "urban," meaning black, former Polo officials say.

The manager ordered two black and two Hispanic sales associates off the sales floor and back into the stock room, so they wouldn't be visible to Mr. Lauren, according to the ex-officials. The sales associates followed orders, but they later hired a lawyer and threatened to sue Polo for discrimination. The company reached confidential settlements with the four, the former executives say.

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