Soon after starting at Prada Japan in April 2009, Rina Bovrisse says she witnessed Prada Japan CEO David Sesia demoting and transferring 15 female employees whom he called “old, fat, ugly, disgusting, or did not have the Prada look.” When Bovrisse spoke out against the attacks, she says faced similar abuse and was asked to resign from the company. She filed a complaint with the courts at the end of 2009. In early 2010, Bovrisse’s complaint became a full-fledged lawsuit, garnering headlines around the world. A few months later, Prada filed a $780,000 countersuit against Bovrisse, accusing her of damaging the brand with her very public accusations. A campaign just launched on Change.org urging Prada to drop the lawsuit.
“They’re basically saying anything they find that is negative about Prada — people blogging about Prada’s bags or anything — I’m making them write,” Bovrisse said Friday. “They’re going really crazy.” As of publication of this post, the Change.org petition only has about 200 of 10,000 desired signatures. Prada declined to comment for this story.
In October of last year — nearly three years after Bovrisse filed her initial complaint — a judge finally delivered a ruling in Japanese court. It held that that although Bovrisse and her colleagues were subjected to harassment and discrimination by Prada Japan, the company’s behavior was acceptable and employees of a certain rank should be able to handle it. Bovrisse and her lawyers were perplexed by the ruling, which they believe violates the Japanese constitution.
In court testimony, Prada Japan admitted to requiring Bovrisse and the salespeople she supervised to maintain a certain body shape and hair style. Bovrisse provided BuzzFeed with English translation of portions of the Japanese testimony from a senior HR manager, which reads, “I did receive an order by Sesia CEO, that I told her to ‘lose weight.’ This is from our perspective to maintain PRADA brand image, we expect the store staff are supervised on the body shape.”
Bovrisse says she thinks Prada admitted to the behavior because the company and its legal team didn’t understand the full definition of sexual harassment. “They thought sexual harrassment was raping — they didn’t know verbal abuse can be considered sexual harassment,” she says. “Later it became big news globally, and they realized it was considered sexual harassment.”
Bovrisse’s fight will continue at the United Nations in Geneva on April 30, when the U.N.’s High Commissioner of Human Rights presents a counter-report on the case’s ruling to Japanese Parliament. The report, provided by the Working Women’s Network, recommends establishing “explicit provisions for penalties on sexual harassment in the Equal Employment Opportunity Law.” It also reads:
This case shows that there are few gender-sensitive-judges who can understand human rights issues including sexual and other harassment cases. The case took 3 years, and the economic and emotional burden on the plaintiff, who was a single mother, was huge. Prada is now suing Ms. Bovrisse for 72 million yen damages for protesting gender discrimination in the company. Prada should withdraw its suit.
Bovrisse is not sure if she’ll appeal the ruling since her lawyers told her those legal proceedings could drag out for another decade. But she’s going to the U.N. because, “I really wanted to fight for female rights here, especially in the fashion industry,” she says. “Prada is not doing the right thing. They’re making profits from women, meanwhile all these women working for Prada are suffering.”