Prada countersues plaintiff claiming harassment

by Minoru Matsutani

A countersuit by the Japan unit of Italian fashion house Prada got under way in the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday against a former senior retail manager, demanding she pay ¥33 million for harming the firm’s image by falsely claiming to the media that the firm engaged in sexual harassment.

Four lawyers representing Prada Japan attended the opening session, but current company executives were not present.

The former manager, Rina Bovrisse, and her lawyers also did not attend.

Bovrisse was fired in March and filed her suit the same month. Prada Japan filed the countersuit last month.

She is demanding nullification of her dismissal and ¥58 million in compensation for emotional distress. Her suit, which is ongoing, seeks to determine harassment occurred.

A judge in the countersuit implied there will be no problem with Bovrisse telling the “truth” to the media. He also said he may consider evidence presented in Bovrisse’s original suit.

“Prada Japan’s countersuit infringes on human rights, as it threatens victims from telling the truth about what happened and scares women who want to speak out bravely,” Bovrisse said in an e-mail.

She alleges that in May last year Prada Japan CEO Davide Sesia asked her to “eliminate” about 15 shop managers and assistant managers whom he described as ugly, and senior human resources manager Hiroyuki Takahashi then told her last September that Sesia thought she needed to lose weight and he did not want people from Italy to see her because he was embarrassed by her appearance.

Such information was in the complaint Bovrisse filed with the Tokyo District Court for a labor tribunal in December and for the civil suit in May. She also conveyed these claims to Japanese and foreign media, including The Japan Times, the weekly magazine Aera and TV Asahi, individually and via news conferences in April.

Separately, Prada Japan retracted its plan to sue an unnamed company for defamation. “We will not sue any companies,” one of the four lawyers for the firm said Tuesday.

They had said in the second session of Bovrisse’s sexual harassment suit in July that the firm planned to sue her and “a company.”

At the labor tribunal, Bovrisse’s demands for compensation were dismissed in March for lack of evidence. Bovrisse filed an opposing motion against the tribunal’s decision the same month, automatically paving the way for the lawsuit.

The managers and assistant managers Sesia allegedly told Bovrisse to “eliminate” either quit or accepted transfers in May and June 2009 at Takahashi’s instruction that were in effect demotions. At those times, he reportedly made no mention of their appearance.