60,000 sign petition in one week for fired Prada employee

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

As many as 60,000 people signed a petition in just a week to urge the Japanese arm of Italian fashion house Prada to withdraw its countersuit against a former employee who sued the company for firing her based on appearance.

Spearheaded by online petition platform Change.org, the organizer of the campaign hopes the voices from around the globe will force Prada Japan to rethink its strategy. It is suing Rina Bovrisse for ¥72 million on grounds that her accusations soiled the company’s reputation.

Change.org Japan Campaigns Director Emmy Suzuki Harris described the results as “hard won,” saying that a petition garnering 10,000 signatures a day is usually considered newsworthy enough to make headlines in the United States.

Prada Japan declined to comment.

The online signature campaign was kicked off in October by Ayako Barrera, 33, who sympathized with Bovrisse’s plight. Barrera said she also has suffered discrimination in Japan, having difficulty landing a job because she is a woman and for using the foreign surname of her American husband.

“I think gender equality is poor in Japan. Women subjected to sexual harassment just tend to endure the humiliation in silent agony, but I hope the great support the petition has garnered this time will wake up people and make them realize the trend is wrong,” Barrera told The Japan Times.

Utilizing Change.org‘s platform, where individuals or groups can launch petition campaigns, Barrera sought support for Bovrisse, “who made a brave stride toward creating a working environment where no discrimination exists based on one’s gender and appearance.”

Barrera said a recent entry on the Huffington Post website that highlighted the petition campaign, as well as a speech by Bovrisse at the United Nations in Geneva on Friday, apparently helped raise awareness about the court case and boosted the number of signatures.

Barrera said she plans to bring the list of signatures to the Italian fashion house.

The Tokyo District Court last October dismissed Bovrisse’s claim against Prada Japan, ruling that the verbal insults she endured were not illegal even though they amounted to sexual harassment.

Bovrisse’s suit said she was fired in March 2010 after being maltreated by the company through slurs about her appearance and demotion to an entry-level sales position.

Bovrisse, who joined Prada Japan as a senior retail operations manager in April 2009, argued that the company began harassing her after she raised a discussion about slanderous comments one of her bosses made about her female colleagues, and about how they were demoted because of their appearance and age and eventually pressured to quit.