Former Prada Employee Explains Her Discrimination Suit

Illustration for article titled Former Prada Employee Explains Her Discrimination Suit

"Prada is selling their products to women, yet they are abusing hard working females who supported their company for decades." Rina Bovrisse, the former manager suing Prada for telling her to fire corporate employees it deemed "unattractive," is back.

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Bovrisse's case recently entered Japan's civil legal system, after arbitration — a compulsory precursor step to filing a wrongful termination lawsuit in Japan — failed to result in any resolution. Bovrisse, who has worked in the luxury goods industry for nearly 20 years, including lengthy stints at Louis Vuitton and at Prada in New York, claims that within months of being hired as a senior regional manager by Prada in Japan, she was directed by her superiors to fire or demote 15 women managers they deemed unattractive or too old.

"[M]ost of the female employees at Prada Japan distant themselves from me in fear of getting fired too," says Bovrisse. "They reminded me of women repressed of their rights decades ago. That was when I was like, wait a minute, this is 2010, are they for real?"

Bovrisse says that while she complied with the directives of Prada's Japanese C.E.O., Davide Sesia, and senior human resources manager Hiroyuki Takahashi during her first three months with the company, when she was a probationary hire, as soon as she became a permanent employee, she signaled her disagreement with the policies through the appropriate channels. The reasons offered for the demotions were that the employees concerned were "ugly, fat, old, disgusting, or with bad teeth, [or] not Sesia's & Takahashi's type," says Bovrisse. "They liked ‘cute' rather than smart, highly skilled female employees." Then higher-ups told Bovrisse to change her hair color and lose weight. Demotions, especially in combination with a transfer to a rural or undesirable store, were preferred over outright firings because the employees would often resign anyway. "This works in Prada's favor as they don't have to provide any layoff or termination package."

"Prada is selling their products to women, yet they are abusing hard working females who supported their company for decades," says Bovrisse. And although she claims her former employers offered her a cash settlement during the compulsory arbitration, she continued her case. "In Japan, we don't fight for money, we fight for human rights."

Discrimination based on age or looks is hardly unknown in the field of retail or in the fashion industry as a whole, although it is perhaps slightly unusual for a corporate employee such as Bovrisse to fall subject it. Abercrombie & Fitch's controversial "looks" policy was recently called into question when it banished Rhiam Dean, an employee with a prosthetic arm, to its store room. (It lost the discrimination lawsuit Dean brought.) And everyone knows that store employees — especially in big cities — are at least partly selected for their looks. Working in fashion, one almost expects to encounter a certain level of discrimination based on factors beyond one's own control — and yet even then, Bovrisse says what she faced at Prada was unprecedented in her career:

It was a shock. I didn't work as a model on the runway...I worked in this industry for almost two decades worldwide and I never thought I would face anything like this. The females I respect who taught and inspired me in my career all fall into their 'not Prada look' category. Even the famous ones like Oprah/Suzy Menkes, they are not young or size 0.

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Prada eventually fired Bovrisse, first, it claimed, for taking her complaints up the chain of command beyond Japan, and later, it said, for speaking without authorization to the media. Her career is now effectively over. "Everyone knows everyone in fashion," she says. And her case — which may not succeed — is still many months away from any potential resolution. But Bovrisse believes that what happened to her was wrong, and that the world depends on people not just rolling over and taking it when the world wrongs them. "I heard Gucci just announced worldwide managers to be careful about discrimination mentioning about what happened recently to 'another luxury brand' as a case study to learn from. If it helps minimize any potential harassment and discrimination in the workplace in any or all industries, I think my enormous stress is worth it."

A recent history of negative publicity, not to mention even a handful of high-dollar-value damages rulings, might have the kind of chilling effect that would allow the women of fashion to breathe a little easier.

Rina Bovrisse Tells Us Why She Is Suing Prada [Fashaddix]

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Earlier:
Prada Store Manager In Japan Says She Was Ordered To Fire The "Old, Fat And Ugly"

DISCUSSION

CassandraSays
CassandraSays

I'm really tired of hearing complacency on this issue. OK, models need to be pretty. Why do store employees need to be pretty? When I go to a store, even one like Prada, what I want from the salespeople is for them to be competent, unobtrusive (ie don't hard sell me), polite, and helpful. I don't care if they look like a monkey's ass, quite frankly, as long as they're neat and clean. Glamorous employees will not make me shop there more often, or buy more - if I'm going into a Prada store I'm already a potential customer. Besides which, it's really not a sexy brand, so it's stupid to market it that way. And the designer is a very average looking woman.

Who do the corporate people think they're selling to, exactly? This is not Victoria's Secret, the customers aren't men shopping for their girlfriends, they're women, mostly older well moneyed women. I don't think most of them would stop shopping there because the sales assistants weren't young and pretty.

We need to break out of the whole lifestyle brand thing, where buying a product is seen as buying into a brand on a more global scale, because that's a big part of this, the obsessive need to control every part of the brand's image. I mean really, Prada sells bags, shoes, and nice sweaters and skirts. It's a store selling fairly conservative not particularly sexed up clothing and accessories to women. It's not a whorehouse. The customers are not buying the sales staff.