L'Oreal Found Guilty of Discrimination in France

Accused of Hiring Only White Women to Represent Garnier Fructis

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L'Oreal has been taking a beating on blogs and Twitter worldwide today after a ruling by the French Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling finding the marketer guilty of race discrimination in seeking to hire only white women to represent its Garnier Fructis brand in supermarkets there.

The court upheld a 2007 ruling by the Paris Appeals Court against L'Oreal and the recruiting firm Adecco, including fines of about $40,000 each. In 2000, a L'Oreal manager sent a fax to Adecco seeking women as in-store sales reps who were thin and "BBR," which stands for "bleu, blanc, rouge," colors of the French flag and a code word in recruiting circles for white French people.

"You're Worth It -- If White" read the headline on the story in the U.K.'s Guardian. Bloggers and tweeters likewise picked up the play on parent L'Oreal's (not Garnier's) famous ad slogan.

The story follows a controversy last year in which bloggers accused L'Oreal of doctoring a photo of Beyonce in European ads to make her look white -- something the company denied. And it comes as France is roiled by continued racial tension over government restrictions against Muslim girls wearing head coverings in school, and a recent statement by French President Nicholas Sarkozy criticizing the burqa.

L'Oreal said in a statement it was disappointed by the ruling. "L'Oreal continues to reject the accusations of discrimination against its affiliate Garnier by SOS Racisme [the group that brought the charges in French court]," the statement said, adding that the company "emphasizes that respect of individuals is one of its fundamental values."

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