Lawsuit Seeks to Hold Retail Clothing Company Liable for Alleged Harassment and Abuse of Models

Sexual harassment in the workplace violates New Jersey employment laws at the federal and state levels. A common type of sexual harassment involves demands for sexual activity as a condition of employment. This could mean that a person must submit to a sexual demand in order to get preferable shift assignments or other benefits. It can also mean that the demands are a condition for getting a job in the first place. Certain jobs, such as modeling, are particularly prone to abuse by people in positions of power. Since models do not always have a clear “employment” relationship with the person making sexual demands, employment laws dealing with sexual harassment are not always available. A recent lawsuit filed by a model against a major clothing retailer accuses the company of enabling and benefitting from sexual harassment and abuse by the former CEO. Instead of employment statutes, it asserts claims under a federal law aimed at human trafficking.

Laws like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allow employees and job applicants to file civil claims alleging sexual harassment. In the modeling industry, it is unfortunately not uncommon for people to abuse their power in order to get models to engage in sexual behavior. Using sexual demands as a condition of employment violates New Jersey employment laws. When further coercion is involved, including threats of violence or restraint, other statutes may apply, either in addition to or instead of employment statutes.

The New Jersey Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act (HTPPTA) prohibits the use of physical restraint, violence, or threats of violence to induce someone “to engage in sexual activity…or to provide labor or services.” While sex trafficking might be the most familiar form of human trafficking, it can also be a factor in industries like food service, manufacturing, and retail. The federal Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA) addresses numerous forms of “forced labor.”

Both the HTPPTA and the TVPA allow people to file civil lawsuits to recover damages resulting from trafficking activities. The New Jersey statute specifically states that damage awards should include “the gross income or value to the defendant of the injured party’s labor or services.” The federal statute does not specify what types of damages are available.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit described above is a model who sought work with the defendant, a major clothing retailer. The casting process he describes in his complaint alleges widespread demands for sexual activity. He is asserting claims on behalf of himself and other “young men…who believed they had to remain loyal to the venture at all costs to survive.” He alleges that he and other models “were led to believe they would suffer serious physical, financial, and reputational harm” if they resisted the sexual demands from the CEO or others or spoke out about their experiences.

The lawsuit names the company, the former CEO, and other former executives as defendants. Claims against the company and the former CEO include participating in a sex-trafficking venture and knowingly benefitting from a sex-trafficking venture in violation of the TVPA.

Employers could owe damages to workers if they violate their legal rights. If you have experienced sexual harassment or other unlawful acts in the workplace, a knowledgeable and experienced employment attorney can help you recover compensation. The Resnick Law Group advocates for the rights of workers in New Jersey and New York. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

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