donatella versace
Donatella Versace (pictured Dec. 5 in London) runs the luxury brand. A former employee at the company's San Francisco-area boutique alleges the store employed code words to alert workers when a black person walked in. Neil Hall/Reuters

Versace is denying allegations in a lawsuit filed by a former employee in the San Francisco area, accusing the company of employing a code word to alert workers a black person had entered the store.

Christopher Sampino, who is 23 and “one quarter African-American,” filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court earlier this month, alleging his training included being advised to hold up a black shirt and say “D410” to let co-workers know a black person had entered the store. “D140” is the designation used for black clothing.

“You know that I’m African-American?” the man said he told his manager at the Pleasanton, California, store. He was fired two weeks later.

The suit seeks unpaid wages and damages.

“We do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and any other characteristic protected by our civil rights laws,” Versace told TMZ. The company said it would try to have the suit dismissed.

“The manager instructed the plaintiff to say ‘D410’ in a casual manner when a black person entered the store. The manager informed plaintiff this code is used to alert co-workers that ‘a black person is in the store,’ “ the suit alleges.

After Sampino identified himself as black, the suit alleges he was treated differently.

“Plaintiff observed that training no longer seemed legitimate after he announced that he is African-American. … Plaintiff did not receive proper training with regard to rest breaks and did not take rest breaks. Plaintiff further did not receive login information needed to access an online database where employees retrieve printouts of pay stubs,” the suit says.

Sampino claims he “met or exceeded expectations with regard to job performance.” However, he was fired Oct. 1. The reason given was that he didn’t “understand luxury” and didn’t “know the luxury life.” The suit says he was asked to quit to “make the paperwork easier.”

Versace is a luxury fashion design house founded in 1978 in Milan. The company operates 200 boutiques and more than 1,500 wholesalers worldwide.