The suit says that top company executives believed that major Seiko Holdings shareholder Etsuko Hattori was so bigoted against other Japanese women—and apt to have one fired in the U.S. as she has done in Japan—that they bent over backwards to keep a Japanese sales associate out of her sight during a visit to New York.
Other American employees of the Madison Avenue boutique were there when Hattori visited, according to the suit filed in New York state court. The suit claims the incident made clear to the Japanese native that she would never have the same opportunities to succeed and advance at Seiko as were available to male colleagues.
Parker seeks tens of millions of dollars in damages from defendants including Seiko Corp. of America, Seiko Holdings Corp. CEO Shinji Hattori, and his aunt Etsuko.
A Seiko spokesman, in response to the suit, said: "The events described by Ms. Parker are at odds with the facts as we know them. Seiko is committed to diversity and we have anti-discrimination policies in place to support all of our employees, including Ms. Parker. We expect the legal process will show that her claims are without merit."
"I was just very shocked," Parker said of Seiko's alleged demand that she make herself scarce during Etsuko Hattori's visit. "I feel really disappointed, and sad also."
"I can picture everybody standing, in welcome for this lady, and I couldn't be there. Why? Because I'm Japanese and I'm a woman," Parker said.
Her lawyer, Christopher Brennan, said: "Many aspects of Ms. Parker's lawsuit are disturbing, not the least of which is that in this day and age a woman can be ordered not to report to her job solely due to her race and sex."
"What Seiko did to Ms. Parker is despicable," Brennan said. "It is extremely troubling that a company of Seiko's stature would tell any employee not to come to work due to the racist and sexist beliefs of a company V.I.P."
Parker's suit targets one of Japan's wealthiest people, Etsuko Hattori, and one of its best-known companies.
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Hattori, who owns about 9 percent of Seiko Holdings stock, is considered within the company to be the adoptive mother of Seiko's chief, in addition to being his biological aunt, according to the civil suit. The suit says that Parker was told by Seiko's vice president that Etsuko Hattori was "so powerful" within the company that even Shinji "was afraid of going against her wishes" when it came to defending employees fired at her behest.
Hattori's late husband was Reijiro Hattori, the grandson of the man who founded Seiko in 1881. Reijiro Hattori was ousted from his executive role at the company in 2010 with the help of his nephew Shinji, reportedly because of Reijiro's long-time protection of a top female Seiko director who had been accused of bullying employees for years.
Parker, 52, has lived and worked in the U.S. for more than two decades, and is married to an American. She was hired by Seiko in May as the company was planning to open luxury boutiques in the U.S.