In September, 2014, Fashion executive and invited speaker to Geneva's United Nations, Rina Bovrisse's five year battle for womens' rights may be heard by Japan's Supreme Court. Her story started in April 2009, when she left her job with Chanel in New York City to become Prada's senior retail operations manager to oversee 500 employees in Japan. As her case alleges, within weeks she complained to Prada that she observed a CEO harassing female employees because they were "old, fat, ugly, disgusting or did not have the Prada look". Then Prada turned fashion ugly.
Rina Bovrisse and her attorney Susan Chana Lask
On June 24, 2014, Japan's Supreme Court agreed to hear Fashion Executive Rina Bovrisse's sexual discrimination case against Prada Case (# 2014(NEO)439, #2014(NEO)510). The case was appealed from Tokyo's District Court and Tokyo's High Court, entitled Bovrisse v. Prada Japan and Prada Japan and CEO Davide Sesia and Prada Luxembourg CEO Carlo Mazzi v. Bovrisse (Tokyo District Court #2013(WA)24879, filed July, 2010 and Tokyo High Court, # 2013(NE)6849, #2014(NE)1040, decision on May 29, 2014). Prada shamelessly countersued Ms. Boverisse for some $800,000 for defamation, claiming she damaged their brand because she spoke to the media about her experience.
The courts decided, as interpreted by Ms. Bovrisse, that in the fashion industry a well compensated female employee should withstand a certain level of such harassment. Prada's $800,000 demand was reduced by the court to some $33,000 for defamation. Ms. Bovrisse is represented by New York attorney Susan Chana Lask.
Now the Supreme Court accepting her case could not be any more timely regarding women's rights in Japan. In July, 2014, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy sent an encouraging handwritten letter to Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly female member Ayaka Shiomura who was heckled by male legislators. 1 On September 11, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reports Japan's "Prime Minister Holds Forum Friday to Discuss Working Women and Gender-Based Targets".
On August 18, 2014, Ms. Bovrisse filed her Supreme Court brief arguing, among other things, that Prada discriminated against her as a female employee directed to lose weight and wear her hair in a certain style and color to look more Japanese, and aptly concluding that the “Prada Group insists that image is everything in its business, but if image is important and it profits from women in the first place, then Prada should end sexual harassment and gender discrimination…”
Ms. Bovrisse's story reads like a fashion-house movie. For 10 years she had a jet-set executive job with Chanel in New York. She mingled internationally with stars such as Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, Milla Jovovic and Kim Kardashian. In April, 2009, she left Chanel for what she thought was a dream job when Prada recruited her to work in Japan as their senior retail operations manager overseeing 500 employees. As alleged, within weeks she complained to Prada that she observed Prada CEO Davide Sesia harassing female employees because they were "old, fat, ugly, disgusting or did not have the Prada look", and she was directed to fire them. After complaining to Prada's CEO about the discrimination against female employees, then Ms. Bovrisse was called disgusting and was dismissed as a criminal from Prada in retaliation for her complaints, as alleged in the case.
In March, 2010, Ms. Bovrisse filed a discrimination and harassment lawsuit against Prada under Article 709 of Japanese Civil Law in the Tokyo District Court. Prada shamelessly countersued her for defmation. Defemation is a crime in Japan, whether it is true or not. Article 230-1 of the Criminal Code of Japan-“(1) A person who defames another by alleging facts in public shall, regardless of whether such facts are true or false, be punished by imprisonment with or without work for not more than three (3) years or a fine of not more than 500,000 yen. On October 26, 2012, the District Court found that discrimination should be tolerated in the fashion industry, as explained in Ms. Bovrisse's Supreme Court brief.
"Making it more offensive then the alleged harassment is that the court found Ms. Bovrisse's sexual discriminaton and harassment claims were defamatory and defamation is a crime in Japan. That sends the message to Japanese women that they'll go to jail if they voice their complaints; reinforcing Japan's archaic repression of women in the workplace." says Susan Chana Lask.
Rina appealed to Tokyo's High Court, filed as case# 2013(NE)6849, #2014(NE)1040. The case turned ugly, with appeals and litigation for four years.
"I want to eliminate any discrimination, harassment in the fashion industry because that’s not beautiful,” says Rina Bovrisse.
On May 29, 2014, the High Court upheld the District Court finding no discrimination and that Ms. Bovrisse defamed Prada for some $33,000 in damage. Now the Supreme Court will render a decision.
Rina Bovrisse leaving Court and at a Press Conference
Ms. Bovrisse's case has received international support, including the United Nations. In 2010, the UN Women CEDAW (Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) representatives visited Japan and supported Ms. Bovrisse after reviewing her case. In 2013, the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, CESCR (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) received a counter report on this case. On May 17, 2013, the UN CESCR urged Japan's State party "to introduce in its legislation an offense of sexual harassment, in particular in the workplace, which carries sanctions proportionate to the severity of the offence" and "ensure that victims can lodge complaints without fear of retaliation." 2which urged Government of Japan to introduce a new legislation to prohibit sexual harassment and on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. In April, 2013, she spoke against discrimination at the Geneva Press Club as part of the United Nations. On June, 2014, the case was again reported to the UN Human Rights Committee.
Ms. Bovrisse’s dedication to this case and its cause for women’s rights in the archaic Japanese workplace made her an international icon for feminism and human rights. On April 24, 2013, at the invitation of the Geneva Press Club, Ms. Bovrisse spoke about her case at the United Nations in Geneva. On April, 2010, Elle France selected Bovrisse as “The Woman Of The Week”.3 On September, 2010, Bloomberg featured Bovrisse as “Heroine of the Global Economy”.4 On January, 2011, she was featured as “Female Icon Of The Year” with Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni in Correio da Manhã.5
The Huffington Post reports “The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan… bills her as a global advocate for women’s rights.” Bloomberg reports “Rina Bovrisse … just may be the heroine for which economists have been waiting.” CBS News reports “The judgment angered people worldwide, spawning protests and a social media backlash.” She was heralded as woman of the week by Elle France. Vogue reports “The UN has backed former Prada employee Rina Bovrisse over her four-year-long lawsuit with Prada Japan concerning allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for Japan's State party to introduce new regulations that would make sexual harassment in the workplace illegal.
Rina Bovrisse is internationally educated in Paris, London and she graduated from New York's Parsons School of Design. She is the CEO of CHATEAU SCHOOL, Inc. a new concept international school she created for children. She is a member of international NGOs to improve social issues specialized in gender equality and human rights. She has also performed as a liaison to international parliaments to re-write the laws in respect of diversity, based on her personal experience supported by CEDAW of The United Nations and worldwide media. She is an Entrepreneur, an International Producer, a gender equality negotiator, a stage mom and a writer -- today.
4 Pesek, William (2010-09-09). "Prada Wears Devil in Eyes of This ‘Ugly’ Woman: William Pesek". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2013-10-22.