Abercrombie & Hollister Face Alarming Suit
LOS ANGELES (CN) - Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. refer "young and vulnerable" employees to a "sexual predator," who asks them to pose nude and masturbate, under the pretense of achieving a relaxed "look" for the camera, a former A&F employee claims in Superior Court.
Benjamine Bowers sued Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister Co. California, AIG Model & Talent Management, A&F and Hollister affiliates, and two individuals, Daisy Ashburn and Brian Hilburn, in a 41-page complaint with 14 causes of action.
"Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. are delivering the names, photographs, addresses and telephone numbers of its young employees to a sexual predator," the complaint states.
It continues: "Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. are known for their racy marketing photography, frequently featuring semi-nude male and female models, and for their in-store 'models.' Store employees are recruited as models at casting calls held at Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. stores. Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. give a second hope to those employees not selected for these coveted modeling jobs by giving those employee's names, photographs and personal information to a modeling agent that they highly recommend, but had never investigated. That modeling agent, Brian Hilburn, is a sexual predator.
"Once they are under Hilburn's contractual control, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co.'s young and vulnerable employees are instructed to pose nude and masturbate in front of Hilburn while he photographs and videotapes them. Instead of being rewarded with a selection as a coveted model for Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister Co., the young employees are subjected to shameful and embarrassing sexual harassment."
Bowers says it happened to him. He says he was 18 when he posed nude and masturbated for Hilburn, the principal with AIG Model & Talent Management, a Mississippi LLC.
Bowers claims he ended up in Hilburn's Jackson, Miss. office, after failing to land a job as an "in store" model for an Abercrombie & Fitch ad campaign.
He claims he was referred to Hilburn by Abercrombie casting director Daisy Ashburn, who told him that Hilburn was "highly experienced" and "trustworthy."
But according to the complaint: "After inducing Benjamine to sign a contract with him and offering Benjamine what he thought was an opportunity of a lifetime, Hilburn coerced Benjamine into posing nude and masturbating in front of him, while Hilburn shot photographs and video. Hilburn then exposed himself to Benjamine in a failed sexual advance. Benjamine was shocked and horrified by Hilburn's lewd conduct and by the fact that his employer, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co., had delivered and subjected him to Hilburn."
At the photo shoot in June 2011, Bowers claims, Hilburn told him how to achieve the "look" that agencies seek in models.
"Specifically, Hilburn stated that there is a specific 'relaxed' look that characterizes the expressions on the faces of the most successful male models in the industry. Hilburn told plaintiff that he had tried various methods to replicate this expression on the models he shoots, including giving them alcoholic beverages before the shoot and even having them masturbate in another room before coming in to be photographed; however, he discovered the most effective method was for the model to masturbate in front of the camera so the facial expression could be captured on film immediately after orgasm. Hilburn also stated to plaintiff this was an industry secret he heard from a photographer in New York. Hilburn stated to plaintiff that this 'look' is what all photographers expect from models, so naturally, he had to go through this procedure in order to generate the best photographs for introducing plaintiff to the industry."
Bowers claims Hilburn also told him he had to pose nude for the photographs, or Abercrombie photographer Bruce Weber (not a party to the complaint) would get "'mad.'"
"During the photo shoot on June 17, 2011, Hilburn asked plaintiff to remove all of his clothes and to pose nude. Hilburn then instructed plaintiff to masturbate and have an orgasm while Hilburn took photographs of plaintiff. Hilburn provided plaintiff with an iPad device with which to view pornography for the purpose of facilitating plaintiff's masturbation," the complaint states.
Bowers claims that though he was "scared and confused" he consented because Hilburn had told him that it "was a necessary step in establishing his modeling career."
The complaint states: "After viewing plaintiff's penis, Hilburn opened his pants and exposed his own penis to plaintiff. Plaintiff did not ask to see Hilburn's penis, nor did plaintiff want to see Hilburn's penis. Further, Hilburn did not ask plaintiff if he wanted to see his penis or if plaintiff would be offended if Hilburn showed plaintiff his penis. Hilburn then commented on the relative size of his penis and plaintiff's penis. Plaintiff is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Hilburn showed plaintiff his penis as an unwelcome sexual advance by Hilburn. Plaintiff was shocked, horrified and offended by Hilburn's unsolicited exposure of his penis to plaintiff and by Hilburn's apparent unwelcomed sexual advance."
Bowers claims that Hilburn's representations about "masturbation-induced facial expressions" were false, and that the video and photos Hilburn took were never used to promote him. Rather, Bowers claims, Hilburn kept the images to satisfy his "own prurient interests."
Named as defendants are Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Trading Co., J.M. Hollister LLC, Hollister Co. California LLC, and Ashburn, Hilburn and AIG Model & Talent Management LLC.
Bowers is represented by Matthew Panagiotis with Zomber & Panagiotis.
He seeks more than $1 million in damages for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, fraud in the inducement, rescission due to fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, deceit, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and negligent hiring and supervision.