#MeToo Takes Center Stage At New York Fashion Week

For years, fashion models have been seen and not heard. Now, organizers at New York Fashion Week are trying to change that dynamic.

In one event, models will end a traditional catwalk by sharing their stories about sexual abuse and exploitation. These stories are especially common in fashion circles where young women are often in vulnerable positions, explained former Elite Model Management agent Carolyn Kramer. “There are no laws. Nothing. Zero. A 15-year-old could work 13 hours a day without a parent, without a guardian, and be exposed to behavior that is so inappropriate for any person to have to be witness to,” she added.

These issues go back decades. In the 1970s, Elite’s founder, John Casablancas, dated a 16-year-old model when he was 41; ten years later, he married a 17-year-old girl. Over the last several decades, Elite has worked hard to revise the way it does business, partly by promoting people like Ms. Kramer into positions of authority. Other changes are afoot as well, largely because allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have opened the floodgates.

Laws may be changing too. In 2013, New York lawmakers approved the Child Model Act, which gives underage girls additional protections.


Some Relevant New York Laws

Since the Big Apple is one of the fashion centers of the world, it’s not surprising that New York has some of the strongest laws in the country when it comes to protecting underage fashion models. The aforementioned Child Model Act sharply limits work hours and requires that a responsible adult always be with child models if they are under 16.

Additionally, the New York City Human Rights Law is much broader than Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, its federal equivalent. Sexual harassment victims in New York City are entitled to unlimited compensatory and punitive damages under the NYCHRL, as well as all their attorneys’ fees, if they prevail at trial. Furthermore, this law applies to almost all employers, even if they only have one employee. Finally, in 2005, the law was amended even further, requiring judge to resolve almost any uncertainties in the victims’ favor.

Hundreds of thousands of women and men in New York City must endure sexual harassment, whether they are fashion models or not. Under this and other laws, this behavior is generally defined as:

  • Hostile Environment: In the movies, it is romantic when the shy boss asks the pretty intern for a date. In real life, this conduct is illegal, especially if the shy boss asks for a date more than once. Offensive jokes, sexually-charged computer wallpaper, and other such items could also constitute a hostile environment.
  • Quid Pro Quo: Employers cannot tie raises, promotions, and other such decisions to sexual favors, no matter how subtly they make the connection.

Young girls are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, because they may not understand what is happening or know that they have the right to say no.

The New York State Human rights law is almost as broad, and it contains many similar protections. To take advantage of either, victims must either live or work in that jurisdiction.


Tort Claims

In the United States, one sexually assault occurs every ninety-eight seconds. These assaults, whether they are physical or verbal, are intentional torts in New York and elsewhere. Verbal assaults are sometimes called intentional infliction of emotional distress. Either way, the elements are the same:

  • Intentional Assault: The act must be intentional to the extent that it is not accidental. To satisfy this element, the tortfeasor (negligent actor) need not have a malicious intent or even harbor any dislike towards the victim.
  • Damages: The victim must sustain actual damages; however, these injuries need not be severe. Any physical trauma injury or psychological injury normally suffices.

Damage awards are often very high in intentional tort cases. These awards include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Substantial punitive damages may be available as well.


Third Party Liability

Some individuals lack the financial means to pay compensation to victims. Fortunately, there are some vicarious liability theories in New York which make third parties responsible for these assaults, in some cases.

Negligent supervision is one such theory. If a fashion photographer or other employee commits an sexual assault or other intentional tort, the employer is liable for damages if:

  • The defendant had a legal responsibility to monitor the tortfeasor,
  • The defendant neglected that legal responsibility,
  • The victim suffered injury as a result of the defendant’s carelessness, and
  • That injury was foreseeable.

Negligent hiring is another similar theory. Typically, employers have a duty to hire qualified people whom the employer knows will not present a danger to others. Special rules apply in the case of criminal backgrounds.

Premises liability may be an issue as well. A landowner is responsible for injuries due to third-party crimes that occur on the owner’s property if that injury occurred because of a lack of security and is foreseeable. In this context, evidence of foreseeability basically includes prior similar incidents on and near the property.

Sexual assault and harassment victims can get both compensation and justice from the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Call today for a free consultation.