Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

I’m Your Designer, ‘not a Male Prostitute!’

MANHATTAN (CN) - Jewelry maker Judith Ripka withheld her interior designer's earnings and demanded that he use sex to manipulate a vendor, he claims in court.

Ripka, whom the complaint describes as a "well-known jewelry designer and manufacturer, specializing in luxury jewelry and jewelry sold on QVC television," is named as Judith Ripka-Berk in the action, which was filed on Dec. 31 in New York County Supreme Court.

Tristan Harston, of Nassau County, says he has been working with Ripka since 2005, with the understanding "that each year plaintiff would receive $120,000.00 paid in bi-weekly installments," plus health care.

Harston says Ripka, Judith Ripka Companies Inc.; and Ripka's husband, attorney Ronald Berk, "are in the practice of bartering for goods and services, rather than making payments for goods and services with a cash or check.

One artist, for example, traded Ripka $350,000 worth of artworks - a chandelier and three sculptural baskets - in exchange for jewelry, the complaint states.

Pursuant to his normal contract, Harston says he would have earned more than $1.25 million for the transactions he engineered for Ripka.

The typical contract entitles Harston to 30 percent of any merchandise purchased through him, plus 25 percent whenever he coordinated a construction project or other labor and services, according to the complaint.

In addition to $200 an hour for any out-of-state work, Harston says he usually takes a 15 percent commission on any of his clients' auction purchases.

Harston allegedly agreed to the salary since Ripka's use of bartering "would make it difficult to calculate plaintiff fees under his standard contract."

Ripka has breached their agreement, however, by withholding checks from April 1, 2013, to the March 30, 2014, term, according to the complaint.

Harston says Ripka also tried to have him manipulate a certain vendor with whom they have bartered over the years for "3,413,810.29 worth of furniture, fabric and lighting for jewelry."

This vendor's name is omitted from the article since she is not named as a defendant.

Harston says wanted the vendor to produce furniture for her new home in Palm Beach.

"On three different occasions defendant Ripka-Berk instructed plaintiff prior to his personal meetings with [the vendor] to 'do whatever it takes so that she could get her furniture' and that he should 'bed her'; 'seduce her'; and 'f-k her.'" (Dash in original.)

"This was offensive to plaintiff and he refused to comply with this demand and stated to Ripka-Berk that he was 'not a male prostitute but her interior designer."

Harston says Ripka also removed him from her company's group health insurance without warning in March 2014, while still deducting premiums from his salary through his last pay check.

After Harston ordered more than $1 million worth of furniture from the vendor he was ordered to seduce, Ripka canceled the order, putting Harston "in possible liability for the cost and injured plaintiff's relationship with the vendor and reputation in the marketplace," according to the complaint.

Harston says he resigned on July 10 this year, with $4,450 owed in unpaid salary for the 2013-14 term.

"Plaintiff is also owed $4519.00 for the two weeks prior to his resignation as well as unreimbursed expenses for the" 2014-15 term in the amount of $6,850.

Harston also demands "unpaid salary for this term of $90,000.00, and reimbursement of all health insurance premiums that were wrongfully withheld."

Ripka's alleged refusal to forward Harston's medical information has also prevented him from enrolling in COBRA.

Harston seeks $105,819, plus punitive damages. He is represented by Michael Botton, an attorney in Belmar, N.J.

Other big-ticket items for which Ripka bartered during Harston's employment were $225,000 worth of Tibetan rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting; $40,000 worth of lighting; $100,000 worth of windows and doors for the Ripka-Berk home in Southampton; and two custom Tibetan rugs for the Ripka-Berk home on 5th Avenue, according to the complaint.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.