I did not fit store 'look' says disabled student

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A law student with a prosthetic arm told an employment tribunal today she "questioned her worth as a human being" after she was forced to work in the stockroom of US clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she did not fit its strict "look policy".

Riam Dean, 22, who was born with her left forearm missing, said she was granted special permission to wear a cardigan to cover the join in her arm, but was later removed from the shop floor and made to work in the stockroom because the cardigan did not adhere to the strict dress code.

Miss Dean told the tribunal she felt "taunted" when her manager told her she could return to the shop floor of the firm's flagship store on London's Savile Row if she removed the cardigan.

She said: "I felt personally diminished, humiliated and could not argue a point I could never win."

Miss Dean, who has just finished her final exams at Queen Mary, University of London, is seeking damages for disability discrimination at an employment tribunal in central London.

She told the hearing she would have stayed with the company until her law qualification was complete, had she not been "bullied" out of her job.

Miss Dean added that, when she left the company, she "wasn't the same person".

"I didn't want to socialise," she said.

"If I did go outside the family home. I felt so self-conscious, I would cover up and wear long cardigans despite it being summer.

"I knew I would need another job, but I couldn't face rejection all over again.

"I began to assume that my arm would always cause me such trouble.

"I was always prepared for children to be curious about my disability, but to be faced with adult bullying, no one could have prepared me for such debasement."

Abercrombie & Fitch has yet to respond to the allegations in the tribunal but last night a spokeswoman for the company said Miss Dean's portrayal of what occurred was "inaccurate".

She added: "We regret that Miss Dean has felt it necessary to bring a claim to the employment tribunal.

"Abercrombie & Fitch has a strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy and is committed to providing a supportive and dignified environment for all its employees."

Akash Nawbatt, representing Abercrombie & Fitch, argued that Miss Dean "exaggerated" the effect her experience with the company had on her.

Mr Nawbatt said that problems Miss Dean experienced after leaving the firm could be attributed to long-standing issues.

He referred to a report from a medical assessment Miss Dean underwent to secure disability funding for university, which said: "During her first two years at Queen Mary's she relied heavily on support from her mother and peers to shop for her and accompany her to lectures and social events."

It also described her as "becoming socially isolated" and said she was unable to travel by public transport because of anxiety problems.

He argued that if the report was accurate, Miss Dean had overstated the impact Abercrombie & Fitch had on her wellbeing.

Miss Dean said the report was an inaccurate representation, saying she was very social. She described herself as "a popular member of the university" and said she played in the football team.

Mr Nawbatt replied: "Just as you are exaggerating in the (medical) report, you are exaggerating what happened at Abercrombie and the effect it had on you."

Miss Dean's close friend, Genevieve Reed, told the tribunal she is "a bubbly, lively, sweet girl, who is the apple of everyone's eye".

She added: "Riam does not get easily depressed and is a happy-go-lucky girl."

However, she said her experience at Abercrombie & Fitch changed her.

"Riam became much more inhibited and felt, for a long while, unable to go out and enjoy herself."

The once effervescent and buoyant Riam had been utterly deflated by Abercrombie & Fitch, Miss Reed said.

"The girl who once felt invincible, and rightly so, started to question whether this was just the first of a series of obstacles she would come up against in her life due to her disability."

Miss Reed added: "To watch my extraordinary friend's character and spirit crushed by a large corporation was heartbreaking.

"Riam once said that she cannot simply erase the hurt and the anxiety caused by Abercrombie & Fitch but she owes it to herself to stand up to them so she can try and regain her confidence once again."

The tribunal was adjourned until tomorrow when more witnesses will be heard.

The case is listed for three days.