Image: Bruce Weber/Abercrombie

Almost exactly a year after model Jason Boyce filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bruce Weber, the famed photographer has been slapped with another, even more damning lawsuit, centering on his alleged practice of sexual assault. According to the case, which was filed in federal court in New York, by five male models, Weber – “the ‘gatekeeper’ to success in the male modeling industry” – is “a serial sexual predator who used his power in the male modeling industry to fraudulently and forcefully entice aspiring male models into engaging in abusive commercial sex acts.”

Thanks to the fact that many major “magazines, designers, brands, and other clients” regularly “delegated complete power and control over photoshoots [and corresponding castings] to Weber, the 71-year old photographer long maintained the title of “the most powerful and influential fashion photographer in the male modeling industry” with “the power and authority to decide which male models would achieve success in the industry, and which male models would fail.”

The plaintiffs – who have opted to file their suit using their initials, A.J., B.A., K.B., M.J., and O.J., “because this matter is of a highly sensitive and personal nature, and public disclosure of their identities may subject them to further embarrassment, shame, and emotional harm” – claim that  they worked with – and were assaulted by – Weber between 2008 and 2010. The famed photographer’s “modus operandi,” according to the complaint involved “using fraudulent photography practices to fondle models’ genitals for the purpose of his own sexual gratification.”

They assert that Weber “exploited his prominence and influence to manipulate men into submitting to his sexual advances in exchange for photoshoots, castings, other prospective modeling opportunities, and promises of success in the industry.”

All of the plaintiffs assert that Weber – either in private photo shoots or after getting the model alone in connection with a larger shoot – “forced his hand into [their] pants and fondled [their] genitals” as part of what the complaint characterizes as a “fraudulent breathing exercise.”

During these encounters, Weber allegedly “made material promises and assurances that Weber could and would help the plaintiffs’ careers if they complied with what [he] wanted them to do.” On the other hand, he allegedly threatened at least one of the models that “if he did not do what Weber wanted, Weber would give the job to one of the other models.”

The models claim that they all believed that “Mr. Weber that they had to engage in these practices in order not to look ‘tense’ for the photoshoot, and/or to succeed professionally. They also believed that Weber had the power to blacklist them.”

Unlike in the case that Jason Boyce filed last year, in which he set forth state law claims of sexual harassment and discrimination, the models in the case at hand argue that they are “victims of molestation” and have been subject to “sex trafficking.”

In particular, they claim that Weber violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law that makes it a federal crime to “knowingly … recruit, [or] entice … by any means a person … knowing, or, in reckless disregard of the fact, that means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, or any combination of such means will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act,” the latter of which is defined as “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”

The complaint asserts that from “the outset of [his] professional relationship [with the model plaintiffs], Weber knew that he would use force to convert the fraudulent photography practices to sex acts with the plaintiffs,” and that “Weber intended that his fraud and force [would] cause a sex act to take place,” thereby satisfying the elements required for a Trafficking Victims Protection Act claim.

As a result of Weber’s “heinous and willful conduct,” the plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, costs, and “all other appropriate relief.”

Counsel for Weber told the New York Post, “These new allegations are outrageous. Bruce Weber has never lured, recruited or forced anyone to do anything and has never inappropriately touched a model. This lawsuit is nothing more than media-hungry lawyer [Gloria Allred’s daughter Lisa Bloom]’s attempt to extort Mr. Weber.”

UPDATED (August 31, 2021): Bruce Weber and the five models who have since been identified as Josh Ardolf, Anthony Baldwin, Jacob Madden and Jnana Van Oijen have settled the case, with counsel for the plaintiffs telling the Post, “The parties have chosen to put this matter behind them and move forward with their lives.” The terms of the settlement are confidential.

The settlement comes just a month after Weber settled a separate sexual assault lawsuit filed against him by model Jason Boyce.

 *The case is A.J., B.A., K.B., M.J., and O.J., v. Bruce Weber, 1:18-cv-12112 (SDNY).