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French watchdog probes Abercrombie for discrimination

PARIS (Reuters) - France's official human rights watchdog said on Wednesday it was investigating Abercrombie & Fitch Co over concerns the U.S. clothing retailer discriminates in hiring store staff based on appearance.

Known for shirtless hosts at the entrance of its stores, the company has courted controversy in the past for targeting customers and employees based on their looks.

The rights watchdog, an official body that investigates suspected discrimination cases, cited in particular a 2006 interview with website salon.com in which Chief Executive Mike Jeffries said the company hires good-looking people to attract good-looking customers.

The Defenseur des Droits watchdog said the company, whose preppy clothes are popular with youth, has lost discrimination lawsuits in the United States and Britain in the past.

Raising concerns that Abercrombie's hiring policies may still be discriminatory, the watchdog said it suspected that people hired as models for its stores were in fact also sales staff.

"Though physical appearance may legitimately be a key and determining professional factor for models, that's not so for sales staff," the head of the watchdog, Dominique Baudis, said in a statement.

The company did not immediately have a comment in response to the investigation when contacted by Reuters about it.

The watchdog aims to wrap up its probe by the end of the year, after which it can make recommendations to the company if proof of discrimination is found. It cannot launch a lawsuit in the absence of someone who says they were the victim of discrimination.

Abercrombie has two stores in France, including one on Paris' Champs Elysees avenue. A queue of youths often can be seen waiting to get in.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Additional reporting by Phil Wahba; writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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