Axed manager’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Prada Japan fails

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

The Tokyo District Court on Friday quashed a demand by a former manager of Prada Japan that the firm pay her ¥58 million in damages for sexual harassment, ruling that telling her to lose weight wasn’t so bad given that Prada is in the fashion business.

“It may be insensitive for the president to tell an employee (to lose weight), but considering the nature of Prada’s business (and other factors), it cannot be recognized that it is bad enough to cause emotional distress worth compensation,” the court said.

Plaintiff Rina Bovrisse said afterward, “This ruling means the company and bosses can do whatever they want and anything is allowed in workplaces of the fashion industry.”

On other harassment allegations lodged by Bovrisse, the court ruled “there is not enough evidence to support them.”

The court said Prada was justified in firing Bovrisse because she told The Japan Times about the alleged sexual harassment and allowed the newspaper to run an article about it on March 12, 2010 — grounds for dismissal as Prada’s internal rules state it can fire employees for defaming it.

Bovrisse, who began working for Prada Japan in April 2009 and was fired in March 2010, had demanded ¥58 million in compensation for emotional distress.

She had argued that human resources manager Hiroyuki Takahashi in September 2009 passed along a message from CEO Davide Sesia stating that she needed to lose weight and change her style to the “Prada look,” and that Sesia was too ashamed of her ugliness to let people from Milan see her, the argument the court dismissed because of a lack of evidence.

Sesia and Takahashi argued that Takahashi asked Bovrisse to lose weight and told her that keeping in shape was essential for her job description as a senior retail manager of Prada Japan — overseeing 40 Prada outlets in Japan and two in Guam and Saipan — because she headed shop clerks whose appearance is a factor in attracting customers.

Bovirsse alleged Sesia and Takahashi were also responsible for other harassment, including instructing Bovrisse to “eliminate ugly, fat and old” shop managers and assistant managers, and to force them to purchase Prada products to increase sales, but the court also saw no evidence of this.

The Prada Japan side said those accusations were false and that Bovrisse created a hostile environment in the company by reporting false accusations to the Milan headquarters.

Bovrisse also complained Friday about the attitude of the lead judge, Reiko Morioka. According to Bovrisse, Morioka brought in her and her four lawyers in June to recommend they reach an out-of-court settlement. When Bovrisse declined, Morioka screamed at her, “If you don’t settle, I will rule you lose,” Bovrisse claimed.

Prada Japan is countersuing Bovrisse for ¥33 million for harming its image.