UN Backs Woman Suing Prada

STORY BY Emily Kirkpatrick

Published: June 9, 2013

Rina Bovrisse has been in a four-year-long legal battle with her former employer, Prada Japan over accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination, only to have it dismissed by the Tokyo court this year.

In 2009, Bovrisse was the senior retail operations manager of Prada Japan where she was told she needed to cut her hair, lose weight and that the CEO was ashamed to introduce her to people from the Milan branch. Shortly afterwards, CEO David Sesia ordered that all female employees who he found to be “old, fat, ugly, disgusting or did not have the Prada look,” be demoted or transferred out of the company. This is from a man who was also quoted in court documents as having said, “One must watch pornographic films in order to understand how women think.” How could a man who offers up such pearls of wisdom possibly sexually harass anyone?

Bovrisse first attempted to correct this issue of discrimination by pursuing resources within the company, speaking with COO Sebastian Suhl and the Prada human resources department in Milan. Instead of coming to her aid and trying to rectify this situation as quickly as possible, Bovrisse was unceremoniously fired on the grounds that she was “bringing negative energy to the company” and she was accused of being mentally ill. The Tokyo court sided with Prada, ruling against Bovrisse’s case despite finding the company’s management to be guilty of sexual harassment and discrimination. In the courts opinion, this type of behavior is “acceptable for a luxury fashion label” whose employees should be be able to deal with it.

Undeterred, despite what to all appearances seems to be an encouragement of the discrimination she experienced, Bovrisse took her case to the UN in April. Her’s was the first ever fashion related case to be heard by the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights made a ruling in her favor, issuing a statement requesting that Japan’s State party introduce legislation that would make sexual harassment, particularly in the workplace, an offense, “which carries sanctions proportionate to the severity of the offense.” In addition, the Committee recommended that the State ensure victims are able to safely lodge complaints without retribution, and suggested they continue their efforts to make the Japanese public aware of the realities of sexual harassment.

In response to the suit, Prada has countersued Bovrisse for $780,000, supposedly for the damage she and her case have done to the brand’s image. Let me tell you, Prada, there are few things more damaging to a brand’s image than the United Nations siding against you in a case of discrimination against women.

 

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