A long-running legal clash between LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton (“LVMH”) and its former Vice President of Legal Affairs has made its way to federal court. After filing a lawsuit against LVMH in a New York state court in April 2019, Andowah Newton has lodged a new complaint against the luxury goods giant with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that she “suffered sexual harassment and an incident of assault” while on the job and when she complained about the incident was subjected to a “retaliatory hostile work environment” that escalated during tenure and ultimately resulted in her being “publicly and humiliatingly fired.”
Setting the stage in the 79-page complaint that she filed on December 11, Newton asserts that she “suffered sexual harassment and … assault at the hands of [LVMH’s] Director of Property and Facility Operations, Lloyd Doran.” When “repeated informal reports and requests for help to [LVMH’s] in-house employment counsel fell on deaf ears,” Newton said that she sent an email to Doran asking him to stop harassing her “pursuant to the instructions” of LVMH’s employment counsel. The result, according to Newton, was that Doran reported her to LVMH by “immediately forwarding the email to his supervisor,” which prompted “immediate retaliation” by LVMH.
Mirroring some of the claims in her earlier suit, Newton alleges that LVMH “did everything it could to intimidate [her] into not pursuing her claims and convince [her] that the harassment was just a byproduct of being an ‘attractive woman’ who works at a company with a French culture, and thus should simply be tolerated.” Newton further asserts that she filed a formal complaint with LVMH’s Human Resources and requested that they hire an external third party to conduct an investigation. LVMH “eventually and reluctantly agreed, but the truncated investigation was merely an extension of [its] campaign to intimidate Newton into silence amidst allegations that might tarnish its public image,” the plaintiff alleges, noting that she “had no other choice but to engage in the protected activity of filing a lawsuit” in New York state court in April 2019.
In that case, which ultimately ended up in arbitration (after LVMH won a motion to compel), Newton alleged that LVMH had engaged in sexual harassment, assault, and retaliation in violation of the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.
In response to her lawsuit, Newton claims that LVMH “ramped up the retaliatory hostile work environment against her [when its] CEO made the unprecedented and outrageous step of sending an email to all employees essentially calling Newton a liar and directing them to ‘continue business as usual…” Newton alleges that her “‘fall from grace’ lasted throughout the rest of her employment at [LVMH, where] she was increasingly outcast and othered from her team.”
Specifically, Newton maintains that “her coworkers and [former LVMH] General Counsel [Louise] Firestone continued to retaliate against her and harass her, creating an intolerable, ongoing retaliatory hostile work environment,” including by “denying her reasonable accommodation request to work remotely … to accommodate her PTSD,” giving her a negative performance review (despite previously receiving “nothing but outstanding, stellar reviews”), lowering her annual compensation increase,excluding her from work-related events, and “intentionally mislead[ing] the press to smear [her name and reputation],” among other things.
She further contends that LVMH subjected her to “a worsened ongoing retaliatory hostile work environment” after she was subpoenaed by Congress in November 2021 to testify in support of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021, a since-enacted federal law that bans forced arbitration for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
Taken together, Newton – who was ultimately “publicly and humiliatingly fired” in December 2022, effective as of January 1, 2023 – asserts that “it was clear that [LVMH], aware that it would be unlawful to fire her, instead hoped to pressure her into quitting.”
As a result of “the sexual harassment and retaliation she suffered at [LVMH],” Newton alleges that she “has experienced severe distress and anxiety” and “continues to suffer from PTSD and recently has had panic attacks and suffered sleep issues due to their continued retaliation.” Moreover, she claims that in 2021 and 2022, she “began suffering from two additional physical medical conditions/injuries, likely caused or exacerbated by [LVMH’s] retaliation and hostile work environment, conditions and injuries for which she continues to be treated to this day.”
With the foregoing in mind, Newton sets out claims of retaliation in violation of Title VII against LVMH and retaliation in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law against LVMH General Counsel Rodney Pratt, and is seeking monetary damages, including (but not limited to) all lost wages and benefits resulting from the defendants’ “unlawful discrimination and conduct” and compensatory damages for “mental and emotional injury, distress, pain, suffering, and injury to [her] reputation in an amount to be proven.”
In the wake of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act (“EFASASHA”) coming into force, Newton’s case very well may have a different outcome than the one she waged in New York state court. Enacted in March 2022, the EFASASHA amends the Federal Arbitration Act to enable victims of sexual assault or harassment to pursue claims in court even if they are bound by an arbitration agreement that states otherwise, thereby, forcing employers to remove sexual harassment and sexual assault disputes from the list of claims that employees must arbitrate by way of mandatory arbitration.
A representative for LVMH North America told TFL, “Ms. Newton is once again pursuing entirely baseless claims following those she initially made in 2018, which were found to be without merit after being investigated at the time internally, as well as independently by a retired Judge. As to her newest claim, her departure was part of a restructuring of the North America legal department, which affected a number of employees, late last year by our recently appointed North America Chief Legal Officer. Given this, we will continue to vigorously defend our position against these meritless and frivolous claims.”
The case is Newton v. LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton, et al., 1:23-cv-10753 (SDNY).