Luxury Madness: Stories From Saks Fifth Avenue Employees

Spending Big On Used Items

Imagine saving your money for months to purchase a blouse you have been eyeing at an amazing store. Only when you go to purchase it, you think you vaguely smell perfume, but it just couldn’t be because this is a high end shop. They would never resell an already worn item, right?

Spending Big On Used Items

Well according to an employee’s account, let’s call her Linda, Saks Fifth Avenue has a very lenient return policy. This means employees must accept nearly all returned items even if they just know deep down that they have been used before. Linda says this happens with a variety of items.

Pre-Worn Switch-a-Roo!

Employees are told by management to put the merchandise back out on the floor, which makes sense from a logical standpoint, because these items have to go somewhere or it will be a complete monetary loss for the store. If a store associate does smell something like perfume on the items they will typically take them to the alteration department to be steamed and hopefully get the smell out.

Pre-Worn Switch-a-Roo!

Linda says she’s disgusted by having to put the items back out when she knows they have been used, but there is nothing else that she can do. This is a good bit of information to know if you want to shop at Saks or any other high end retailer for that matter!

A Saks Scandal

This entry isn’t so much about an employee confession but more about what an employee got caught doing! A very well publicized Saks Fifth Avenue Scandal, if you will. Former saleswoman Cecille Villacorta worked at Saks Fifth Avenue from 2000 to 2006 and quickly became one of their best sales people.

A Saks Scandal

She made more than $27 million in sales for the store in the time she worked there. She was accused of crediting refunds to customers’ credit cards, even when the hadn’t actually returned any merchandise. She was also giving customers rebates for gift cards which they never purchased in the first place.

She Still Made Them A Lot of Cash

Altogether prosecutors alleged that she credited over $1.4 million in improper funds. A jury ended up acquitting her of first degree larceny but she was found guilty of a lesser charge, and she had to serve ninety days in jail. Saks Fifth Avenue had a representative actually make a victim impact statement at the end of the trial.

She Still Made Them A Lot of Cash

Her lawyer also alleged that she made around $400,000 in the last year she worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, and that the reason her three thousand customers visited the store was purely because of her. It sounds like she still made them quite a bit of money if the numbers are correct!

The Right to Discriminate?

Another Saks Fifth Avenue employee confession that ended up as very public, was the company’s alleged treatment of a transgender employee. Leyth Jamal, a transgender person and former employee of Saks Fifth Avenue, alleged that the store discriminated, harassed and subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender identity.

The Right to Discriminate?

Interestingly, Saks Fifth Avenue chose to take the defense, saying that transgender people are not covered under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Saks also claimed that they were not legally bound by the very non-discrimination policies they created because “employee handbooks are not contracts as a matter of law.” Wow.

Backlash from Human Rights Groups

That is quite a bizarre defense. Saks also purposely mis-gendered Leyth, repeatedly referring to her with male pronouns throughout the filing. This was an interesting take as they should have almost known that they were at the very least setting themselves up for bad PR as a non-inclusive workspace with such language.

Backlash from Human Rights Groups

Saks eventually withdrew that defense after they received a lot of public backlash, even from various people within the legal realm, including the Attorney General of New York and the Human Rights Campaign. Ultimately, they ended up settling with Leyth for what was only described as an “amicable settlement”.

A Warhol Star

Holly Woodlawn was a Puerto Rican transgender actress, who sadly passed away in 2015. Holly was best known for her work with Andy Warhol. She was actually regarded as one of Warhol’s Superstars and starred in several of his films.

A Warhol Star

She is also the woman whom the famous Velvet Underground song Take A Walk On The Wild Side is about .“Holly came from Miami, F-L-A/Hitchhiked her way across the USA/Plucked her eyebrows on the way/Shaved her legs and then he was a she/ She says, ‘Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.’” Holly recounted working at Saks as a young woman, because “someone had to earn some money”.

Holly Woodlawn’s Saks Story

She said at the time, Saks had no idea that she was a transgender woman, as they definitely would not have hired her as a salesgirl at the time. Holly said she would invite her friends to come visit her and tell them to go try items on in the dressing room, when really they were hiding dresses underneath their winter coats and then leaving the store.

Holly Woodlawn’s Saks Story

Holly would look the other way and of course not call security. Then she said she would meet friends at some cheap bar and they would open their coats which would be stuffed full of dresses. The way she recounted it is pretty hilarious. The clip can be found on YouTube and is worth a watch.

Fighting For Sales

For those who work at Saks as commissioned salesmen, it can quickly turn into a dog-eat-dog world. Let’s take for instance the case of Michelle. Michelle said that commissions make people regularly fight for sales, stealing them out from each other’s noses.

Fighting For Sales

Even worse, if someone comes in to make a return it can actually count against you, which means you either take home very little money or end up in the negative having to “work for free”. Michelle discusses an encounter where she was forced to return a pair of Gucci sunglasses setting her back $550. Ouch! Corporate retail does not seem like the place to make a good living.

Another Sunglasses Saga

Another story from Michelle also involves a sunglasses saga. A stylish older gentleman approached her as she lingered in the accessories department, and demanded a return. The problem: the Chanel sunglasses were clearly mangled and looked as though they were mauled by a dog. Michelle sighed to herself thinking, “This guy really wants to return these.”

Another Sunglasses Saga

Of course the gentleman launched into a spiel about how he bought them for his girlfriend’s birthday but his dog somehow ended up getting to them first. He actually asked her for a new pair. Of course if she does this, they will be counted against her for quite a large sum.

The Ol’ Dog Chewed My Stuff Excuse

Michelle had to decide if she wanted to get yelled at by her manager or yelled at by the customer. After working there for several years, Michelle knew that often customers make up stories to return merchandise they regret buying, like fabricating a phantom dog for instance.

The Ol’ Dog Chewed My Stuff Excuse

In this case Michelle decided to refuse the return but not before trying to turn it into a sale. “Sir, I apologize, but due to the condition of the glasses we can’t take them back. But let me show you some other new beautiful models of sunglasses that I’m sure your girlfriend would love.”

Mean Customers

Of course, the customer was not pleased with this option and cussed at Michelle and stormed out of the store. Michelle was unfazed and happy she at least didn’t lose anything with this exchange. Of course this is something that would never be discussed while interviewing for a sales position at a high-end store.

Mean Customers

But dealing with customers such as these, including being cussed at, is a common occurrence. Why do people believe its okay to treat others this way? You know they would absolutely not want to be treated this way at their place of work. Once thing is for sure, and that is you have to have a tough skin to work in retail!

The 100% Commission Scam

Another account comes from Lindsay, she said “I thought I would be at Saks for many years, when I first got hired on.” She said that the hiring manager discussed many benefits to working their like supposed discounts and the like. However, she says that the truth of the matter is much different. Specifically she says, “Being on 100% commission is a joke.”

The 100% Commission Scam

Of course, like we read earlier, commission makes the environment extremely competitive and even borderline back-stabbing. Lindsay said that business at Saks typically comes from return customers who have long visited the store, and thus have their own sales people they like to visit.

No Walk In The Park

There are not many new clients or walk-ins to actually generate good money for salespeople. Lindsay also says that she got little to no support from HR or the management whom she worked directly with. She said, “The floor is the worse I have ever seen in fifteen years of work in retail, it’s really a dog eat dog job.”

No Walk In The Park

She also purports that if you don’t reach sales goals that management sets for you, you actually have to pay them back out of your paycheck, which means you end up “working for free”. Selling at Saks seems like no walk in the park!

Discrimination Against Disability

Perhaps this is common for any corporation, but what is it with the discrimination lawsuits?! A lawsuit was filed claiming that an employee was fired because her disability forced her to miss work. In Houston, Texas a former Saks makeup artist named Marlene Babin claimed Saks fired her from their New Orleans store because of her disability which is ulcerative colitis.

Discrimination Against Disability

Ulcerative colitis causes your bowels to inflame and it forms constant sores in your digestive track. Ow, talk about painful! Babin started working for Saks in 2000, she had been diagnosed with the disease in the previous year. By 2004, she was forced to undergo five major surgeries and of course had to miss some work.

A Pain In The Gut

She spent three months in the hospital and had to take several extended medical leave of absences. In 2005, while recovering from her fifth surgery, Saks told her she had to return by a certain time or be fired because she had allegedly used all of her available leave. Although her lawyers and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) actually asserted that she still had 900 hours of leave left.

A Pain In The Gut

Outrageous! Babin attempted to return to work so she couldn’t be fired, and even got a release from her surgeon. As luck would have it, right before she was to return she fell and broke her wrist.

Unfortunate Luck and A Happy Ending

The next work day, Saks fired her immediately because she used her leave and could not be “accommodated” any longer. They said she could reapply when her wrist healed. She waited six weeks and reapplied, but they said they didn’t have any openings that worked with her background even though she had twenty years of makeup artistry experience.

Unfortunate Luck and A Happy Ending

Saks later filled the position who had no makeup artist experience. Ms. Babin claimed that they discriminated against her based on her disability. The company ended up settling with her for a sum of money and also had to take a number of measures including implementing a written policy on discrimination specifically against disabilities and have their supervisors and HR staff undergo disability discrimination training.

Becoming A Shopaholic

Although it might seem like becoming a shopaholic isn’t a real thing, it is actually listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the manual for psychologists. Much like sex addiction, it is often thought of as being a manufactured illness to excuse certain behaviors but according to doctors this is not the case.

Becoming A Shopaholic

One individual tells of how working at high end retailer Saks Fifth Avenue actually helped fuel his shopping addiction. Charles, a native of Texas, said in his early twenties he was completing living beyond his means and his spending was out of control. By age twenty-four, Charles was already a top salesman at Saks Fifth Avenue, nationwide.

Luxury Temptation

He says that the Saks Fifth Avenue discount and being constantly surrounding by luxury products was too overwhelming and tempting to him, and everything he earned he would immediately spend at the company. He said that already at eighteen years of age, wearing an outfit that cost upwards of one thousand dollars wasn’t out of the norm for him.

Luxury Temptation

Charles remembers how he would purchase new outfits every weekend and also became addicted to constantly partying in the upscale club scene in his city. For him, accessing high end luxury goods at discounted prices became an addiction, and making such purchases would give him a literal high.

Out-Of-Control Spending

Charles says that you become like your environment, and in order to live up to his Saks Fifth Avenue surroundings he ended up accumulating debt. Ultimately, he spun out of control and was unable to curb his spending. His parents had to intervene.

Out-Of-Control Spending

Doctors claim that spending, just like drugs, actually changes the way your brain excretes dopamine, making it highly desirable to make purchases. However, like drugs, eventually that same high is harder to attain and then they start exhibiting other symptoms like anxiety. Professional help is almost always needed in cases like these, including therapy and sometimes even medication.