Early last month, fashion retailer Guess began pushing to prevent the details of a lawsuit filed by an ex-model, accusing its founder and CEO Paul Marciano of rape, from ever becoming public.
And now that model and her lawyers are fighting back, telling The Daily Beast this week that the fashion giant is trying to “silence” a victim of alleged sexual assault.
“I have already experienced so much pain. It’s my human right to get the chance to tell my story in a fair court setting like anyone else. Without being cornered or silenced into anything less,” said the former model, anonymously identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast. “They know I am telling the truth. They fear it will get out. So their only hope is to cover it up.” (The Daily Beast has confirmed Doe’s identity but does not name alleged victims of sexual misconduct without their consent.)
Doe alleged in her lawsuit—filed in January in Los Angeles Superior Court—that Marciano forced her to perform oral sex on him early last year, after months of sexual harassment and alleged enabling of his predatory behavior by Guess. Marciano and Guess have both denied Doe’s allegations.
On Feb. 5, Guess filed a motion to move the case out into private arbitration, arguing that “This case does not belong before the Court at all” because the ex-model had previously signed—unknowingly, Doe claimed—arbitration documents as part of modeling jobs for the company.
The fashion retailer further argued that Doe should be required to use her real identity. However, the motion also claimed that moving the ex-model’s lawsuit behind closed doors would actually serve Doe’s best interests and help maintain her anonymity.
According to the fashion company, many of the “Sealed Declarations” in the case contain Doe’s “true name, signature, home address, birthdate and social security number” as well as the agents and agencies she’s worked with and the financial terms of their agreements. “If Guess were to file the Sealed Declarations publicly, without any redactions,” the company claimed, “it would expose Plaintiff’s identity and the terms of her contracts to the public.”
“This is paternalism at its best,” Doe’s attorney Lisa Bloom told The Daily Beast. “She can choose what’s best for her. She does not want to be in arbitration. She wants to be in court. Courts are perfectly capable of protecting her identity. It’s done frequently. She should not be unmasked by Guess or anyone else. It is very clear in California that a sexual assault accuser has the right to go forward anonymously.”
Guess and Marciano did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The process of closed arbitration has come under increased scrutiny during the #MeToo era. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB-51 into law, which aims to stop companies from compelling employees into forced arbitration.
“This has been a hot issue in the #MeToo era largely because arbitration typically works to the benefit of the employer in terms of the outcome, as well as limiting public exposure,” explained Adrienne Lawrence, attorney and author of Staying the Game: The Playbook for Beating Workplace Sexual Harassment. “Unlike cases brought in court, arbitrated disputes are not generally open to the public, thus shielding the employer from negative media attention that may harm the employer’s brand.”
“Closing courthouse doors to sexual assault accusers and forcing them into secret, closed hearings silences victims. California has banned the practice of employer-mandated arbitration, but due to a quirk in federal law, it continues,” Bloom said. “Guess claims to be a brand that empowers women, but this move is straight out of the old boy playbook of pushing women into a corporate-friendly forum with private judges who are overwhelmingly white and male. Why are Marciano and Guess afraid to have this case heard in an open court before a diverse jury?”
Doe’s complaint was just the latest in a series of accusations made against Marciano over the past few years. Her lawsuit noted that the fashion mogul was previously accused of misconduct in 2018 by several women; and that after resigning from Guess as a result of the claims, he was quietly reinstated a year later.
After the alleged assault, Marciano gave Doe a $1,000 Guess gift card and mentioned the promise of future work, she alleged. Doe did not tell anyone about the alleged assault until several months later. “The only person I told was my husband in September,” she said.
Doe said that she has experienced suicidal ideation and depression since the alleged assault. “After the assault I definitely dissociated for a long time, and it was hard for me to process what truly happened, and now I’m in intensive therapy I have finally realized what happened to me and also the moments leading up to the actual assault and what was happening to me mentally,” she said. “I’m devastated. I’m still devastated. I'm going through the motions every day. It’s been a difficult time for me. I’ve gone to a very dark place mentally, and I struggle to put into words the damage that has been done, and the suffering that I’ve gone through."
Ultimately, Doe said, it would be a “dream come true” if Marciano would be forced to resign from Guess again. “I would like to fight for it to happen but Guess is still protecting him and enabling and not speaking out on things they know take place at Guess,” she said.
“My allegations are not the first. I strongly fear that if Paul Marciano is not stopped now and removed from Guess that he will only continue to abuse his place of power to sexually harass and assault other women. Time has proven that this is a cycle that will not end unless serious and permanent change is implemented within this company. Guess has had an opportunity to potentially end this harm from happening again by holding Paul accountable for his actions yet they have refused to even acknowledge them. It horrifies me to know he still has so much access to models.”
Ultimately, Doe said she will continue to publicly conceal her identity because “I don’t really trust Paul and Guess for what they’ve put me through so far. I have chosen to stay anonymous due to fear. Fear of further retaliation from Paul Marciano and Guess; fear that people who support them will try to publicly shame or humiliate me; fear that people will come after my family; fear that modeling agencies will turn me away; fear that employers won’t hire me knowing I have sued these powerful people. I just want to live my life in peace and protect the people I love.”
The court will hear Guess and Marciano’s motion to compel arbitration on May 17.