UPDATE: May 8, 2019: In a statement provided by LVMH, the company said it believes there is no merit to Newton's suit. "LVMH has clear policies prohibiting harassment and retaliation in the workplace and procedures to address any concerns raised. Consistent with this, when Ms. Newton first shared her concerns with us in May 2018, we immediately conducted an internal investigation, as well as engaged a neutral, third party to conduct an external investigation. Neither of these investigations found any evidence to support Ms. Newton’s claims. Moreover, Ms. Newton has not been retaliated against in any way and remains an employee of the company. It should be noted that the harassment allegations relate to a member of the Company’s facilities staff and not a member of the Company’s ‘senior management,’ as Ms. Newton falsely states in her suit. We intend to vigorously defend our position."
- A top attorney in the New York office for French international luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that another manager sexually harassed her and that the outside investigation into the situation was a "sham" (Newton v. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Inc., No. 154178 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., New York County, April 23, 2019)).
- In her complaint, Andowah Newton said that shortly after she started working for LVMH, a senior-level manager began to engage in a "persistent and invasive campaign of sexual harassment" against her that lasted for years. Newton said the man began to linger outside of her office; "leer at her" in a way that made her uncomfortable; allegedly assaulted her when he claimed to need to use her telephone to call a colleague; and, at a corporate cocktail gathering, after he kissed each woman in a group of women Newton was among on the cheek, he attempted to do the same to her.
- Newton said the company's director of talent told her the man's behavior was "mere flirting" and that the kissing incident is what "executives do in a French company," though Newton noted in court documents that the man is American. She said when informal attempts to get the man to stop were unsuccessful, she filed a formal complaint with HR, requesting an investigation by an "outside, impartial, and unbiased expert." The outside investigation turned out to be nothing more than "a mediation aimed at persuading [her] to stop pursuing her claims," Newton said. She also said she was retaliated against in the form of negative job evaluations after she started complaining about the man's behavior.
Newton's claims provide an opportunity for employers to evaluate how they want leadership to respond to harassment claims, especially as the #MeToo movement continues to make headlines. Harassment, discrimination and other misconduct claims are up, according to a recent Proskauer survey that reported a 42% increase in harassment claims, a 23% rise in discrimination complaints, and a 35% increase in workplace complaints about other misconduct, such as retaliation. Numbers released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission support this finding, with a reported 13.6% increase in sexual harassment charges compared to fiscal year 2017.
At a session of the Society for Human Resource Management's Employment Law and Legislative Conference in March, InvestiPro's Dana Barbato suggested several ways to improve workplace investigations. Standardizing the process by putting procedures in writing will help HR to perform its due diligence and could keep important information from falling through the cracks, Barbato said. Also, transparency — informing workers of what investigations involve — could motivate them to come forward when they see or experience misconduct.
Barbato also recommended that HR "listen actively" to those who come forward. The audience of HR professionals at her session suggested that showing kindness is key, either by thanking the employee for coming forward or reminding them that their conversation with HR is a "safe space" for expressing their concerns. The investigation should also always have a resolution. "It's just as important to end the investigation as it is to start the investigation," Barbato said, adding that HR should always provide notice to the involved parties if they do uncover inappropriate behavior, and tell the parties about future corrective actions.
As for deciding when to do an outside investigation, at last year's Society for Human Resource Management annual conference, Pavneet Singh Uppal, a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP, said that, while HR is fully capable of handling most investigations, complaints about misconduct involving an executive or someone in HR should be handled by an outside investigator such as a law firm.