Fashion designer stylish drawings sketches textile fabric material Costume. Designer creative workshop studio.

New York City has always played a major role in the international fashion industry. Unfortunately, far too often, models are victims of sexual harassment in the fashion industry. Due to the nature of the fashion industry, fashion models may be reluctant to report perpetrators and seek remedies. 

At Lipsky Lowe LLP, we understand how challenging it can be to come forward and report sexual harassment in the fashion industry. Our New York City sexual harassment attorneys know how to hold employers responsible. If you’ve experienced sexual harassment in the fashion industry, we can help you understand your rights and recover a favorable settlement.

Sexual Harassment is Common in the Fashion Industry 

New York is one of the major fashion capitals in the world. Prospective models come from all over the world to attempt to start their careers. Many young models may be from other countries. Models may depend on fashion industry leaders to protect and guide them while on shoots. It isn’t unheard of for agency employees and more established members of the fashion industry to request sexual favors in exchange for hiring a model for a shoot. 

Faced with the choice of unemployment and having to return home or provide a sexual favor, many young and vulnerable models feel pressure to engage in quid pro quo sexual harassment. In other cases, sexual harassment takes the form of sexual assault. 

Models Are Speaking Out about Sexual Violence in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, several high-profile models chose to speak up about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment in the fashion industry to end sexual violence. They’ve reported that speaking out is difficult because when models speak out about their experiences with sexual harassment, they’ve been fired in the past and unable to find modeling work. 

Thousands of models and former models have joined together to form the Model Alliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes fair treatment of models working in the industry. Even with high-profile models shedding light on the abuse they’ve endured, sexual harassment and abuse continue to happen in the fashion industry. 

Fashion Industry Employees Are Vulnerable to Sexual Assault

Sexual assault in the fashion industry happens when an employee or independent contractor is subjected to unwanted physical or sexual contact by another person in the industry. Sexual assault can happen to anyone in the fashion industry, including models, interns, editors, videographers, designers, photographers, set designers, assistants, and others. 

In many cases, sexual assault happens when a leader in the fashion industry engages in unlawful, forcible touching sexually. Models are among the most affected group of employees within the fashion industry for several reasons:

  • Many models are contracted workers, not employees, and may think that employment protection laws don’t apply to them
  • Models may be afraid that if they say no or report harassment, they’ll be unable to find work in the future
  • Models may be afraid that sexual harassment is just the way things are done in the fashion industry
  • Models may not be American citizens and may not know their rights 

Hostile Work Environments Are a Form of Sexual Harassment

There are two main categories of unlawful sexual harassment: quid pro quo and the creation of a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment occurs when sexual harassment is so pervasive or severe that it renders the workplace hostile or offensive to a reasonable person. 

For example, suppose a model is working at a fashion shoot, and the staff regularly makes lewd comments about his or her genitalia, inappropriately touches the model, or denigrates women in general. In that case, they’ve likely created an unlawful, hostile work environment. Under New York law, sexual harassment includes harassment based on a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or transgender status.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a person tries to trade sexual favors for employment benefits in the modeling industry. For example, a modeling agent may promise to book a model in an important modeling gig in exchange for having sex with him. Alternatively, the agent may threaten to cancel a model’s contract with his agency if she does not have sex with him. Both of these scenarios constitute quid pro quo sexual harassment.

What If I Am an Independent Contractor, Not an Employee?

Models who’ve experienced sexual harassment may think that they cannot pursue a claim against the perpetrator because they are independent contractors, not employees. On the contrary, New York employment laws provide independent contractors with extensive protection from sexual harassment in the workplace. 

In 2018, New York State amended its human rights law to prohibit sexual harassment against non-employees. As a result, models, artists, and stylists in the fashion industry who are considered independent contractors are now protected by New York’s anti-harassment laws. As a result, models and other employees in the fashion industry can file sexual harassment claims with the talent agencies that assign them to jobs or with the companies they’ve worked for. 

Businesses that refer employees or work with independent contractors are also subject to anti-harassment laws. New York City human rights law also protects models who are independent contractors against sexual harassment. 

Pursuing Damages for Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry

Surviving sexual harassment can be damaging physically, emotionally, and financially. Employees in the fashion industry may be reluctant to speak out because they are afraid of being retaliated against and losing out on jobs. 

If you were the victim of sexual harassment in the fashion industry in New York, you can seek damages under local, state, and federal laws. Under New York State human rights law, all businesses can be held liable for sexual harassment, even if they have one employee. By pursuing a claim, you may be able to recover front pay, back pay, medical expenses, and compensation for mental health therapy and emotional damages.

Contact an Employment Attorney in New York City

If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the fashion industry, you aren’t alone. Don’t hesitate to contact Lipsky Lowe LLP to schedule a complimentary case evaluation and learn more about how we can fight for your right to compensation.