Labor & Employment

Attorney sues French luxury brands company for sexual harassment and retaliation

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A senior in-house attorney in the New York office of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton sued the company Tuesday for sexual harassment and retaliation.

In her complaint, Andowah Newton, vice president of legal affairs and litigation counsel at LVMH, claims that she was sexually harassed by a male colleague who made suggestive comments, leered at her, tried to kiss her and, on one occasion, had lunged his body across hers, “thrusting his pelvis and genitals into her face,” while reaching for the phone in her office. The New York Law Journal and Reuters have coverage.

Newton, who has an accounting background, spent eight years in BigLaw. She was an associate at Hogan & Hartson, as well as Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo in New York before joining LVMH in 2015. LVMH is a French multinational, luxury goods conglomerate that owns the brands Dior, Fendi and Givenchy.

According to her complaint, filed in state court in New York City, Newton says she informally reported her male colleague’s behavior to LVMH personnel, including in-house employment counsel, who told her “he could not report the conduct further within LVMH because he worked for the legal department.”

The employment counsel suggested that Newton tell her male colleague via email to leave her alone in May 2018, the complaint says. She forwarded that email to the employment counsel, who then called her, enraged, because he had to make an official report about the behavior.

LVMH’s senior director of talent development met with Newton to discuss the email, the complaint says. After speaking with the employment counsel, general counsel and Newton’s male colleague, the senior director closed the inquiry.

“The director of talent described the harasser’s behavior as ‘mere flirting’ and told Ms. Newton that the incident in which he had attempted to kiss Ms. Newton was ‘what executives do in a French company,’ suggesting that Ms. Newton was unfamiliar with French culture and should simply tolerate the behavior,” according to the complaint. The senior director reprimanded Newton for her email and suggested that she apologize to her male colleague, the complaint says.

Newton filed a formal complaint with LVMH’s senior vice president of human resources, describing her male colleague’s behavior and the response of the legal counsel and talent director. The general counsel questioned why she filed the report but then asked whether she would “let things go” if an external investigator found no evidence of sexual harassment, the complaint says.

The third party’s investigation “turned out to be little more than a mediation aimed at persuading Ms. Newton to stop pursuing her claims,” the complaint says. In June 2018, during that investigation, Newton says she began to experience retaliation by the general counsel, who singled her out and suddenly treated her differently than other employees.

“Notwithstanding her previous glowing reviews of Ms. Newton, the general counsel has begun to chip away at Ms. Newton’s autonomy in the office and is actively trying to take control of Ms. Newton’s cases,” according to the complaint. “The general counsel has also made comments that she is ‘watching’ or ‘keeping an eye on’ Ms. Newton despite Ms. Newton’s years of working independently with positive results.”

LVMH said in a statement Tuesday that Newton’s allegations had “no merit whatsoever,” according to the New York Law Journal. The company said neither the internal investigation nor the external investigation found evidence to support her claims.

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