This past week, Ovadia & Sons, one of menswear’s most talked about young labels found itself in the middle of a very public battle with a former employee. Nicolas Lazaro, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, spent nearly four and a half years in a Special Projects and e-commerce role at Ovadia, left the brand in February 2016 and join Grailed – a curated peer-to-peer luxury menswear marketplace – where he currently serves as its Community Manager.
Judging by a recent spat between the two parties, it appears that Lazaro has some choice opinions about the buzz-worthy young brand, which has racked up a handful of accolades since its launch in 2011. Lazaro – having been on the inside – seems to take issue with the Ovadia & Sons brand, including its founders, Shimon and Ariel Ovadia, which he indicated earlier this month in the comments section of popular menswear website, Hypebeast’s article dedicated to Ovadia & Sons’ Spring 2017 collection.
In his Hypebeast comment, which reads: “Look them up on glassdoor - the designers have no integrity, terrible business practices, and this is just cultural appropriation and straight rips of other brands,” Lazaro directs readers to check the unflattering reviews of Ovadia & Sons on Glassdoor.com. For the uninitiated, Glassdoor is a popular site that helps prospective employees scout salary and working conditions information about potential employers.
On Glassdoor, you will find number of anonymous, unflattering reviews that focus on Ovadia product and the company’s general working conditions. The team at Ovadia was, understandably, not thrilled by this revelation. A former employee bashing his employer is never a positive thing for future recruitment, after all. In response to comments that Lazaro allegedly made on various “social media outlets, blogs, and websites,” the company sent him a cease and desist letter, a document sent to an individual or business with the aim of halting purportedly unlawful activity. The letter, filed by Alan Shweky, a former New York attorney, asserted that Lazaro’s comments are “defamatory” and “damaging.”
Given that we are not privy to any of the insider information at play here, it is impossible to gauge which party would prevail if Ovadia were to pursue legal action. With that in mind, however, we do know that in order for a statement to be found “defamatory,” as Shweky asserts in his letter, that statement must be a false statement, among a number of elements. That is important. Truth is always an affirmative defense to defamation. In short: You will not prevail in a defamation case – whether it be for spoken defamation, which is slander, or libel, which refers to defamation expressed by print – if the party you are suing for defamation told the truth, no matter how much you disagree with the comment and/or wish he had just kept his mouth shut.
Since this matter likely will not result in litigation, we will not delve into what burden each party would have in hypothetical lawsuit, and instead, will turn our attention to what we can learn from the situation at hand. Primarily, the dealings between Lazaro and Ovadia & Sons reveal that despite the Wild West nature of the internet and its plethora of comment sections, what you write in these comment sections (assuming you do not hide behind an anonymous avatar) can be traced back to you and you can be held accountable for the comments, assuming that what you wrote is, in fact, defamatory. This is just a good reminder for all of us internet-users. Third party individuals and companies alike tend to take a uniform stance against bad publicity, and if they believe they can stop it, they likely will.
It is also worth noting that despite what many believe, the First Amendment will not protect you in such an instance. The right to free speech, as derived from the First Amendment, is the right to communicate one's opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship. Since Ovadia & Sons is not a government entity, you cannot claim “free speech” if you are sued in connection with opinions or alleged facts you share in connection therewith. (Note: Lazaro has not claimed that he is protected by the First Amendment).
Second, companies should be aware of the potential for bad press when threatening legal action. With this in mind, a balancing test seems appropriate. Brands, ask yourself: Is the potential negative publicity of threatening legal action – particularly in the age of social media – worth it? In some cases, the fallout from threatening and/or filing suit can be greater than the harm from which the potential lawsuit stems. So, this is certainly something worth contemplating before firing off what seems like a harmless cease and desist letter.
At the end of the day, this situation seems to shed light on the larger dynamics of potential litigation and the multi-faceted approach that smart brands tend to take when deciding if and when to file a lawsuit. Not surprisingly, non-legal concerns come into play when considering whether to initiate legal action or not. Brands and their legal counsels always balance the resources required to file and actually pursue a lawsuit with the potential outcome to be gained by such a suit – this is a no-brainer.
But then there are things that come into play that must be taken into account, such as an existing symbiotic relationship between the two parties (the potential plaintiff and the potential defendant) and the probable burning of a bridge, so to speak, as a result of the litigation. There is also the potential role that bad press or no press at all could play as a result of filing a lawsuit, which is particularly important in the luxury sector, where bags cost at least $1,000 and dresses even more.
As for Lazaro’s thoughts on the matter, he told The Fashion Law: “I think this could be symptomatic of a larger issue within the industry and where the line of mistreatment really is. It's important that we're able to have these public forums where brands can be held accountable for their actions. Glassdoor has been an excellent resource for prospective employees, but it's also critical that the end customer fully understands the brand(s) they are supporting when they choose to purchase a product. I hope that these actions will inspire others to shed the light on the injustices of other brands and maybe serve as a wakeup call to brands that are in denial or feel that they're invulnerable.”
* Ovadia & Sons did not respond to a request for comment.