Max and Lubov Azria, owners of a Los Angeles-based fashion house, are in The City this week to receive honors from the Academy of Art University and from Mayor Ed Lee, who issued a proclamation declaring Wednesday the couple’s official day in San Francisco.
But the honors might come as a surprise, since the BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP has an environmental and gay-rights record that’s not quite in line with San Francisco values.
The company does not offer employee benefits to the partners of same-sex couples in California, according to a company handbook, and the company recently paid out a sizable settlement in a lawsuit over toxic chemicals in its jewelry.
A former BCBG employee, who spoke to The San Francisco Examiner on condition of anonymity in order to “protect future job prospects,” said that he and his ex-husband tried to access the company’s health benefits in 2011 but were told “there was no reason to bother” because only “federally” recognized marriages were valid for benefits.
BCBG’s benefits manual says only a “legal spouse” of an employee is eligible for benefits. The former employee said he tried accessing benefits as a domestic partnership but also was denied.
That means — should City Hall be in need of jewelry or designer clothing — BCBG would be ineligible to do official business with San Francisco, according to The City’s Human Rights Commission.
There’s a city law on the books that says any company providing goods or services to city government must offer equal benefits to employees. San Francisco “attempts to lead by example” on same-sex benefits, said the commission’s David Miree, and the equal-benefits requirement “is one way in which we do that.”
A BCBG spokeswoman said that “as of 2013” the company began offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples. She was “not sure” if the policy also extended to domestic partnerships.
BCBG also recently landed in trouble for selling possibly poisonous jewelry. It paid $110,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, which found unsafe levels of cadmium in BCBG’s Miley Cyrus-themed necklaces aimed at children and teens, according to court records.
So why would the Azrias be feted by San Francisco?
“The mayor hasn’t bothered doing his homework,” said the former employee, who added that “it sets a terrible example” for “the city of Harvey Milk to honor people who do not view their LGBT employees’ relationships as equivalent to those of their heterosexual staff members.”
The Academy of Art University did not reply to requests for comment.
While declining to address the benefits issue, a spokeswoman for the mayor noted that the individuals, and not the company, are being honored by Lee “for their leadership in the fashion industry and their contributions to the world of art and design and their generosity and philanthropic efforts.”