NY Times investigation uncovers sexual harassment, bullying among Victoria's Secret's highest ranks
Within the past two years, L Brands-owned Victoria's Secret has become tangled in a web of public disasters. Now, the brand has been dealt yet another blow, after a new investigation from The New York Times reported a culture of "misogyny, bullying and harassment."
Published on February 1, the Times report said that the company's toxic environment was sustained by two men: Leslie Wexner, the founder and chief executive of L Brands, and Ed Razek, the former chief marketing officer of Victoria's Secret.
According to the report, over 30 current and former executives, employees, contractors and models, as well as court filings and other documents, support a troubling portrait of each executive's behavior.
Razek, who stepped down from his role as CMO in August -- after comments he made regarding transgender and plus-sized models were widely criticized as offensive -- was the subject of repeated complaints about inappropriate behavior, the report found. Among multiple examples, those interviewed told the Times that Razek attempted to kiss models, asked them to sit on his lap, and invited them for private dinners where he made inappropriate advances.
At a 2018 fitting, three people said that Razek placed his hand on a model’s underwear-clad crotch. That same fitting, people told the Times that Razek mused aloud whether network television would allow supermodel Bella Hadid to go "down the runway with those perfect titties."
Those interviewed by the Times also described further instances of Razek harassing Victoria's Secret employees who were not models. On one occasion, Razek is said to have publicly humiliated a female employee regarding her weight.
Following his exit from the company, a harassment complaint was filed by Monica Mitro, a top public relations executive at Victoria’s Secret, against Razek, five people told the Times. The individuals said the head of HR told Mitro that she was being placed on administrative leave the next day. Recently, Mitro reached a financial settlement with the company, they said.
As the list of Razek's offenses grew, executives told the Times that Wexner was informed but nothing changed. In the meantime, employees said that Razek wielded his relationship with Wexner to act as he pleased.
Wexner himself has been a major contributor to the destruction of Victoria's Secret's reputation after being publicly connected to convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein. As the Epstein scandal unfurled, multiple models claimed that Epstein, who managed Wexner's billion-dollar fortune, posed as a Victoria's Secret recruiter in order to lure them into sexual encounters. In the Times report, three L Brands executives said that Wexner was alerted to Epstein’s posing in the mid-90s, but that "there was no sign that Mr. Wexner had acted on the complaints."
Last week, rumors began that Wexner, who is 82, is considering stepping down from his company and selling all or part of Victoria's Secret.
Tammy Roberts Myers, a spokeswoman for L Brands, responded to a series of questions posed by the Times, saying that the company “is intensely focused” on corporate governance, workplace and compliance practices.
“We regret any instance where we did not achieve this objective and are fully committed to continuous improvement and complete accountability,” she said. The Times said that Myers did not dispute any of its reporting.
In an email, Razek called the report's findings "categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context."
In November, Victoria's Secret confirmed the cancellation of its Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, once a global sensation that hit its lowest ratings in December 2018.
Sales at Victoria's Secret have fallen for the last four quarters, and the struggling brand saw dozens of store closings last year. In August 2019, L Brands shares reached a 10-year low. The shares later increased following the rumors of Wexner's exit.
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