Ousted Worker Defamed the Boss, Maxim Says


     MANHATTAN (CN) – The former fashion director of Maxim magazine lied when he told the New York Post that his boss leered at Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio during a nude photo shoot, Maxim claims in court.
     Maxim filed the lawsuit Thursday with its top officer, Sardar Biglari, claiming that Maxim’s former fashion director Wayne Gross is responsible for a salacious story alleging that Texas-based Biglari had “creeped out” Ambrosio by hanging around the set during a July photo shoot in Monte Carlo.
     Neither the Post nor Ambrosio are parties to the action in Manhattan Supreme Court.
     The Post story, which ran on Dec. 2, 2015, described Biglari as a 38-year-old, “mini-Warren Buffet,” who had boasted of the photo shoot to other Maxim staffers for weeks.
     It said Ambrosio had tentatively agreed to take a photo with Biglari on a balcony during the shoot at the Hotel de Paris, with promises from Maxim that the balcony shot would not be published.
     When Maxim put Ambrosio on the cover of its December-January 2016 issue, though, it included the photo of the Brazilian underwear model posing on the balcony with Biglari, whose company Biglari Holdings bought Maxim in February 2014.
     Under the headline “A View to Kill,” the photo does not identify Biglari, dressed all in white and smoking a cigar.
     Maxim and Biglari say the Post ran the article citing an “insider” present at the shoot.
     They say they have a good idea who the insider is since Gross was the only Maxim employee present at the shoot with photographer Gilles Bensimon.
     Biglari says he was “only at the photo shoot for a limited time,” and that it was Bensimon who wanted to photograph Biglari and Ambrosio on the balcony.
     The complaint also cites a July email from Gross, which confirmed that Bensimon had requested the shot.
     Gross said in the email that the hotel “suite was super cheesy,” and that he hoped “we can kill the suite stuff,” in favor of photos of Ambrosio on a boat.
     Biglari notes that the Post revised its article on the photo shoot on Dec. 7, removing all references to him being creepy, even changing the headline.
     The article still carries an implication, however, that Biglari’s presence on the set was unwanted, quoting Ambrosio’s spokesman as saying they approve of the nude cover photo shot but “have no comment” on the photo with Biglari.     
     Maxim’s complaint undermines this allusion by noting that Ambrosio had been posting on Instagram and Twitter throughout the photo shoot.
     By “hashtagging” Biglari and Bensimon in these posts, Ambrosio demonstrated “her approval of the photo shoot and of Biglari,” the complaint states.
     Maxim says Ambrosio also “communicated her approval of the photo shoot, both after it took place and after the pictures from it were published in Maxim, underscoring the untrue nature of the False Statements in the Post article.”
     Gross left Maxim this past September “because of certain personnel changes that Biglari and Biglari Holdings instituted with the goal of making Maxim profitable,” according to the complaint.
     Maxim says its “disgruntled former employee” had signed a nondisclosure agreement, a deal that his interview with the Post about the photo shoot violated.
     The magazine seeks punitive damages for breach of contract and defamation. It is represented by Christopher Clark of Latham & Watkins.
     A LinkedIn profile for Gross says he is now the fashion director at men’s fashion company East Dane, having previously worked as fashion director for GQ Australia and as a fashion consultant. Contact information for the magazine executive could not be located by press time.
     The Post article quotes Bensimon as denying that Ambrosio had a problem with Biglari or the photo shoot. “In absolutely no way did the described situation occur,” he said in a statement released via Maxim, according to the Post. “Alessandra was a dream to work with and enjoyed the photo shoot. She was incredibly pleased with both her cover and the spread.”
     In addition to Maxim, which he bought for roughly $12 million in an auction sale, Biglari owns Steak ‘n Shake and a 20 percent stake in Cracker Barrel.

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