Two women who last year accused Paul Marciano of sexual harassment are attempting a “novel” legal strategy that could spell trouble for Guess board members.
The women, who came forward publicly for the first time Thursday, filed a complaint Wednesday accusing eight current and former Guess board members of aiding and abetting sexual harassment. Arick Fudali, a partner at The Bloom Firm, the law firm representing three of Marciano’s accusers, described the unique strategy of holding board members responsible for the actions of an executive as “new” and “pretty novel.”
Since 1993, more than a dozen women have accused Marciano of sexual misconduct, including in some cases rape. In 2018, model-turned-actress Kate Upton became the highest profile individual to allege sexual assault and harassment. The accusations triggered an investigation that resulted in settlement agreements totaling $500,000 with five individuals who had accused Marciano of sexual harassment.
When Marciano resigned from his role as executive chairman that same year, it appeared that the investigation had effectively ousted Guess’ co-founder. In 2019, however, the company announced that he would remain on as a board member and the company’s chief creative officer.
Guess claims that its 2018 investigation vindicated its continued employment of Marciano and his re-nomination as a director. In a statement responding to an investor’s recent calls to remove Marciano and his brother, Maurice, from Guess’ board, the company said its decision to keep Marciano “was informed by” the investigation’s findings. The lawsuit filed last week by two of the executive’s accusers claims the opposite, arguing that the investigation “demonstrated that Marciano was a serial harasser and assaulter.”
“Guess board members were faced with an amazing opportunity,” Fudali said during a press conference Thursday. “Finally, the allegations were known and public and they had the power and the chance to remove Marciano, eliminate allegations of sexual harassment and assault from Guess’ culture and protect future Guess models and women moving forward. But they didn’t. Instead, the Guess board voted astonishingly to keep sexual harassment and assault part of the Guess experience for female models and gave Marciano unfettered access to do what he wanted. And he did.”
Before Fudali spoke last week, three women came forward for the first time and identified themselves as the anonymous plaintiffs behind the latest string of sexual misconduct lawsuits against Marciano.
“I have lived in fear for so long about coming forward with my identity in public,” the first plaintiff said. “Guess themselves have said that it may, at any time, reveal my name, even against my own will. I refuse to live in fear or shame any longer. I am Jane Doe 1 and my name is Amanda Rodriguez.”
Rodriguez originally filed her sexual harassment, sexual assault and retaliation complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court in January of last year. In that suit—and in last week’s complaint against Guess’ board members—she claimed that Marciano first inappropriately touched her in September 2017. Afterwards, the complaint alleged, he repeatedly asked her for topless photos, while regularly “dangling career opportunities to keep her quiet.”
In February 2020, Rodriguez alleged, Marciano forced her to perform oral sex on him during what she thought would be a meeting to discuss new career opportunities. When she reached out to Guess’ human resources department in September 2020, Rodriguez said “they seemed to investigate only me and not him.”
“They sent private investigators after me,” Rodriguez said. “Paul Marciano personally called people who knew me. The company accused me of copyright infringement for selling my old Guess clothing on a resale site. And worst of all, Guess stopped booking me entirely, ending my career with them.”
The other plaintiff in the lawsuit against Guess’ board members, Jane Doe 2, also spoke in last week’s press conference, identifying herself as Gwen. The model said she was working on a Guess campaign in July 2020 when Marciano made her “feel very uncomfortable through both physical and verbal acts.” After learning of the other allegations against Marciano, Gwen said she felt “a responsibility to come forward and prevent him from doing this to more women.” She wrote a complaint letter to Guess’ board of directors describing her experience, after which she was never hired by the company again, she claimed.
Though Rodriguez’s complaint started out in a public court, Guess and Marciano have “forced” her into private arbitration, she said. Gwen said she would have preferred to have filed in open court, but was similarly pushed into arbitration.
Rodriguez and Gwen’s most recent suit names eight individuals as defendants. Five of these—Maurice Marciano, Alejandro Yemenidjian, Anthony Chidoni, Laurie Ann Goldman and Deborah Weinswig—are still on the board today. Three former members— Victor Herrero, Gianluca Bolla and Joseph Gromek—were also listed as defendants. Three current board members were left off the lawsuit: Cynthia Livingston, who joined the board in 2019; Carlos Alberini, Guess’ CEO since 2019; and Paul Marciano.
The lawsuit relies on a clause within California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act, which says an individual can sue anybody who aids and abets sexual harassment. This means taking an “affirmative act” to help someone knowing that they are a sexual harasser, The Bloom Firm founder Lisa Bloom said.
In Guess’ case, the lawyer continued, the 2018 investigation meant board members knew there were sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against Marciano. In inviting him back in 2019, Bloom argues, they committed an affirmative act that amounted to aiding and abetting.
“We are not aware of any other case where individual board members have been sued for aiding and abetting sexual harassment, but then again, we are not aware of any other board of directors who has effectively terminated someone because of sexual harassment allegations and then invited them back,” Bloom told Sourcing Journal. “This is a really highly unusual set facts…. This is a really unusual situation and we think the law against aiding and abetting fits here.”
Still, Bloom said she hopes others in similar situations are able to replicate her firm’s approach. “I think anyone who does aid and abet sexual harassment should be held responsible, that’s what the law says,” she added.
In a statement released by his attorney Shawn Holley Thursday, Paul Marciano attacked Bloom specifically, connecting her to her former client Harvey Weinstein. Bloom, who was employed by Weinstein in October 2017, initially responded to a New York Times article detailing his history of paying off sexual harassment accusers by referring to him as an “old dinosaur learning new ways.” Two days later, she left the now-disgraced producer’s team.
“I know for a fact that The Bloom Firm has fabricated false claims of alleged rape about me and others to extract big money settlements,” Marciano claimed. “Her plan did not work. The courts will decide who is being truthful.”
Bloom, who previously represented women with sexual misconduct claims against then-Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, insisted that the case is not about her.
“If I got hit by a truck tomorrow, other attorneys would pick this up and continue the case,” Bloom said. “This is about my brave clients who had the courage to go in front of cameras and tell their stories. And it’s about this company. We asked at the press conference, ‘How many women?’ We know of at least 14. I suspect the true number is two or three times that. They don’t want to answer that question. They want to talk about me.”
A third woman also spoke publicly last week. A client of The Bloom Firm, but not included in its lawsuit against Guess board members, San is currently pursuing sex trafficking claims against Marciano and Guess. News of her lawsuit, which alleges Marciano raped her in February 2013 while she was visiting the U.S., originally emerged in January.
Weeks after this latest account emerged, Legion Partners, an activist hedge fund that describes itself as a “significant” Guess shareholder, launched a public campaign calling for the removal of both Paul Marciano and his brother Maurice.
“This Board already conducted an investigation, and despite troubling findings, re-installed Paul Marciano in a senior executive position at the Company, empowering him to continue his alleged predatory behavior,” Legion Partners managing directors Chris Kiper and Ted White wrote in their February letter to Guess’ board members. “The result has been multiple new allegations, at least one new settlement and potentially more liability that may not be covered by insurance. It is clear that the Board must now finally act.”
As Kiper and White alluded to, Guess’ insurance company, Beazley Insurance Company, sued the company in late December for a declaration stating that it has no obligation to defend or indemnify against claims of sexual misconduct by Marciano.
Guess fired back at Legion Partners Thursday, asserting that its campaign “is based on information from the media and from misinformed and uncorroborated sources.” It encouraged other shareholders to ignore Legions’ efforts, categorizing them as irresponsible and reckless. “We believe that Legion’s grand idea to date—removing two individuals who have been critical to our success—would be very destabilizing and detrimental to the Company,” it said. Guess noted that it has established a “Demand Review Committee” to investigate Legion’s demands.
Last week’s press conference also included appearances from Chris Applebaum, a prominent photographer and music video director who has spoken out against Marciano and Guess, and a fourth woman, Eileen Toal, a real estate professional who came forward last year to allege that Marciano sexually assaulted her in 1983 when she was 18 years old. Though California’s statute of limitations prevented Toal from pressing charges against Marciano, she filed a police report with the Beverly Hills Police Department in April 2021.
“I have never sued Paul Marciano or Guess and I have no financial incentive to speak out,” Toal said. “I am here today simply to stand with my fellow victims and to protect those who are still in danger.”