Stuart Weitzman is responding to the headline-making sexual harassment lawsuit that it was hit with last month with a lawsuit of its own - one that is being called "retaliatory" and "irresponsible." On Monday, Stuart Weitzman’s parent company Tapestry, Inc. filed a strongly-worded complaint in New York state court, alleging that its former VP of product development and production of footwear Thomas Gibb is on the hook for failing to “truthfully disclose any potential conflicts of interests he had with Tapestry” and for stealing Tapestry’s “confidential information for his own personal [benefit].”
According to Tapestry’s complaint – which names both Gibb personally and Tidal New York, the American-made flip flop company that Gibb co-founded in 2015 – Mr. Gibb entered into, and ultimately ran afoul of, an employment agreement with Tapestry in February 2017, giving rise to breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty of loyalty and diversion of corporate opportunities, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment claims.
As part of that employment agreement, Tapestry alleges that Gibb agreed to “act in the best interest of the company and to avoid any situation that creates or appears to create a conflict of interest between personal interests and the interests of Tapestry," and signed off on a provision stating that “employees may not own, either directly or indirectly, a substantial interest in any business entity that ... is in competition with Tapestry,” with “substantial interest” meaning “ownership of more than 5 percent" in any competing company.
In its complaint, Tapestry asserts that Gibb breached his employment contract in several respects in connection with his involvement in the Tidal New York brand. Tapestry alleges that while it was aware that Gibb maintained a “passive” stake in Tidal New York, Gibb represented that role as one that was “limited to a small investment interest." Thanks to a May 28, 2018 New York Times article, Tapestry alleges that it learned that Gibb is, in reality, a co-founder and active participant in the Tidal New York brand.
In addition to "leveraging his VP positions with Tapestry (and relationships he gained by virtue of those positions) for his personal benefit and/or those ... of Tidal,” Tapestry claims that Gibb "used Tapestry's resources [over the course of his employment as a Stuart Weitzman VP], including time, email, and computer system, for the benefit of Tidal.” And still yet, Tapestry claims Gibb "misappropriated its confidential information, including but not limited to, a propriety footwear line plan.”
The lawsuit at hand comes less than a month after Stuart Weitzman announced that its creative director Giovanni Morelli would leave after just a year as creative director for unspecified reasons related to his behavior. The announcement was swiftly followed by the lawsuit that Gibb filed against Tapestry, Stuart Weiztman, and Morelli, alleging that not only did Morelli subject him to “repeated” sexual harassment, including “numerous unwanted touchings and endless comments,” neither Stuart Weitzman nor Tapestry did anything to remedy the problem after he made a formal complaint to HR.
Mr. Gibbs' counsel, David Gottlieb, told TFL on Tuesday that Gibbs was fired on Monday, two weeks after he filed suit against Tapestry, Stuart Weitzman, and Morelli, thereby making Tapestry's "meritless" case "a textbook example of retaliation against our client for bringing claims of harassment and discrimination."
But more than that, Gottlieb says that "Tapestry is not just retaliating against our client. It is sending a message to any other employee who may be thinking about raising claim against it [with that message being] that the company will not support them and they need to be fearful about what will happen to them if they have the temerity to raise a complaint."
(This article was updated following its initial publication on Monday to include a comment from David Gottlieb).
* The case is Tapestry, Inc., v. Thomas Gibb, and Homegrown for Good, LLC d/b/a Tidal New York, 653042/2018.