Image: LVMH

LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton is being sued for “doing everything it could to bury” years of sexual harassment experienced by a female executive at its New York headquarters. According to the complaint that LVMH’s Litigation Counsel and Vice President of Legal Affairs Andowah Newton filed in a New York state court on Tuesday, she has been exposed to “sexual harassment at the hands of a senior level management employee … that continued for years” and the parent company for Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, and Givenchy, among 70+ other brands, did very little to remedy it.

Ms. Newton asserts in her complaint that between 2015 and 2018, “a senior level management employee” at LVMH subjected her to “a persistent and invasive campaign” of harassment – from comments, such as “You are so pretty. And that beautiful smile … I just can’t get enough of it,” to physical contact, including pinning her against her desk chair and “thrusting his pelvis and genitals into her face and pressing his body firmly against hers.”

On various occasions “between late 2015 and 2018,” Newton alerted LVMH’s in-house counsel of the harassment, initially making informal reports because she is “familiar with the image-obsessed culture at LVMH [and was] worried that any sort of formal reporting would result in backlash against her, not the harasser.” Newton claims that she hoped that “by informally reporting the sexual harassment, LVMH would resolve the problem without the potential negative effects that could follow from a formal report.”

However, instead of remedying the problem, LVMH tried to “intimidate Ms. Newton into not pursuing her claims and [attempted to] convince Ms. Newton 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.” 

“Despondent at [LVMH’s] actions, Ms. Newton filed a formal complaint with Human Resources” in early June 2018, despite being discouraged by the company’s general counsel, “and demanded that an external third party conduct an investigation,” she asserts. “LVMH eventually and reluctantly agreed, but the truncated investigation” – which Newton calls a “sham” – turned out to be “merely an extension of LVMH’s campaign to intimidate [her]into silence amidst allegations that might tarnish its public image.”

Newton asserts that “the investigator’s comments during [an] interview [with her] made clear that [the investigator] had been tasked with intimidating Ms. Newton and convincing her to put an end to the matter in favor of LVMH, rather than using the interview as an opportunity to understand all the facts.” Less than a month later, in late June 2018, Newton says she was informed by LVMH’s Senior VP of Human Resources that “the investigator had not found a violation of the company’s policy or the law.” Thereafter, Newton says that HR “refused to provide [her] with the investigator’s report or any details regarding the investigation.”

In July 2018, just a month after the completion of the investigation, LVMH which holds the title of the largest luxury goods conglomerate in the world – “publicly announced that [Newton’s] harasser was being promoted,” while at the same time, the company’s general counsel began “to chip away at Ms. Newton’s autonomy in the office and is actively trying to take control of Ms. Newton’s cases.” Moreover, Newton claims that “in an act of blatant retaliation for exercising her rights, the General Counsel, on or about March 4, 2019, gave Ms. Newton-for the first time-a negative oral review,” which contains “false and inaccurate statements,” and which was subsequently “memorialized in a written review Ms. Newton received on or about March 14, 2019.”

In addition to “fearing for her safety” as a result of LVMH’s failure to put a stop to her colleague’s prolonged harassment, Newton says in the complaint that she “believes that she is being pushed out of the company as a direct result of having reported the harasser’s improper conduct.”

The complaint goes on to point out that “while LVMH and its corporate affiliates have been accused of workplace misconduct in other public filings, these filings likely represent only a small fraction of the actual workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation LVMH employees face.” Still yet, Newton bolster her assertions by pointing to Glassdoor workplace reviews that allege instances of “discrimination,” “favoritism,” “xenopobia,” “nepotism,” “bias,” and “bullying.” The reviews explain that “[e]mployees are exploited, humiliated, abused, [and] women are sexually harassed” at LVMH.

“These problems,” she claims, “can be attributed to LVMH’s perceived oppressive and negatively-viewed ‘culture’ coupled with LVMH’s pervasive failure to promote women into executive positions.”

With the foregoing in mind, Newton claims that she “has experienced severe distress and anxiety as a result of the sexual harassment and retaliation she suffered at LVMH,” and as a result, sets forth claims of sexual harassment, and retaliation. She is seeking “a declaratory judgment, stating that LVMH’s practices, policies and procedures subjected [her] to sexual harassment and retaliation, making her work environment a hostile workplace,” and monetary damages of a sum to be determined at trial.

A representative for LVMH told TFL on Tuesday, “There is no merit whatsoever to the allegations in Ms. Newton’s suit. LVMH has clear policies prohibiting harassment and retaliation in the workplace and procedures to address any concerns raised. Consistent with this, when Ms. Newton first shared her concerns with us in May 2018, we immediately conducted an internal investigation, as well as engaged a neutral, third party to conduct an external investigation. Neither of these investigations found any evidence to support Ms. Newton’s claims.”

“Moreover, Ms. Newton has not been retaliated against in any way and remains an employee of the company,” the statement further notes. “It should be noted that the harassment allegations relate to a member of the company’s staff and not a member of the Company’s ‘senior management,’ as Ms. Newton falsely states in her suit. We intend to vigorously defend our position.”

*The case is Andowah Newton v. LVMH, 154178/2019 (N.Y. Sup.)