Abercrombie & Fitch has landed on the receiving end of a new lawsuit, which accuses the company of participating – and maintaining “intentional involvement” – in a “widespread sex-trafficking operation led by its [former] CEO Michael Jeffries,” who is also named as a defendant in the striking case. According to the complaint that he filed in a New York federal court on October 27, David Bradberry claims that Jeffries “used his role as CEO of Abercrombie to prey upon attractive young men who believed that [he] was going to hire them as an Abercrombie model,” and that Abercrombie not only knew about such activities but received “direct financial benefits” by turning a blind eye to the alleged behavior of “its cash cow CEO.”
Setting the stage in the newly-filed 128-page complaint, Bradberry asserts on behalf of himself and more than one hundred other male models that as the CEO of Abercrombie, “Jeffries had modeling scouts scouring the internet and various other resources to identify attractive young men seeking to be the next face of Abercrombie.” While that is standard practice when it comes to model casting, the issue, according to Bradberry, is that Jeffries – who was hired in 1992 by then-Abercrombie-owner Leslie Wexner to transform Abercrombie into “a brand aimed at teens with extreme sexual appeal” – was not merely seeking out male models to serve as faces for the Abercrombie brand. He was also allegedly “rap[ing], sexually assault[ing], and coercively sex traffick[ing]” male models in the process.
Specifically, Bradberry claims that after initially being scouted, the models would “be invited to attend a casting at the palatial home of Jeffries … with his partner, Matthew Smith,” who is also named as a defendant in the Abercrombie lawsuit. “Often these prospective models turned sex trafficking victims were later sent to other places, including New York, Morocco, England, and France, to be sexually abused by Jeffries and other men under Jeffries control under the guise of becoming the next Abercrombie model.” During such “castings,” the plaintiffs claim that they were forced “to sign documents described to them as non-disclosure agreements” and were “taken into rooms where men were engaging in sex with one another.” The models were “forced to take drugs and to participate in sex acts with Jeffries and others, including Smith, all at Jeffries’s direction,” according to the complaint.
In total, “Jeffries victimized dozens and likely over a hundred young men with the assistance of a wide network of co-conspirators, including Abercrombie,” per Bradberry, who asserts that Jeffries’s victims were led to believe that such abuse was a necessary precursor to Jeffries “hir[ing] them as Abercrombie models – the pinnacle of the modeling industry for men during the relevant time period” and that they “would suffer serious physical, financial, and reputational harm to the point that their careers would be completely destroyed if ever they disclosed the Abercrombie/Jeffries/Smith method of recruiting and sexually abusing.”
Not without blame, Bradberry alleges that Abercrombie “knew that it was providing the financial lifeblood for a sex-trafficking organization led by its CEO from at least 1992 through 2014.” Jeffries – who left the company in 2014 – was “so important to the profitability of the brand that he was given complete autonomy to perform his role as CEO however he saw fit, including through the use of blatant international sex-trafficking and abuse of prospective Abercrombie models.” In exchange for “providing the position of power and unfettered access to corporate funds necessary for Jeffries to sexually terrorize aspiring male models,” Bradberry claims that “Abercrombie knowingly and intentionally benefited and received things of value from Jeffries and his sex-trafficking operation, including the value Jeffries himself brought to the brand.”
As for Abercrombie’s knowledge of the situation, Bradberry maintains that the company “discussed internally Jeffries’s specific sex trafficking and the large amounts of cash that Abercrombie was giving him, [and] thus, [it] did not simply fail to adequately detect signs of Jeffries’s sex trafficking; it did detect multiple signs of the coercive sex-trafficking venture and continued to participate in the venture.” However, “Abercrombie knew that if it stopped providing assistance, support, and facilitation of the sex- trafficking venture, it would no longer receive those benefits.” And so, “in exchange for facilitating and covering up the prostitution, Abercrombie’s officers and employees (including Jeffries) advanced in their careers at Abercrombie and received financial benefits therefrom by securing the Abercrombie-Jeffries relationship.”
In short, with the alleged backing of New Albany, Ohio-based Abercrombie, Jeffries’ “venture had everything a sex-trafficking organization needed – funding, infrastructure, the appearance of legitimacy, and a complicit corporate institution.” Meanwhile, Abercrombie benefited by way of revenue: “Abercrombie received benefits by keeping Jeffries as the CEO as he transformed the company from one that was losing $25 million a year to a brand that was grossing $2 billion annually.”
With the foregoing in mind, Bradberry accuses Jeffries, Smith, the Jeffries Family Office, and Abercrombie of running afoul of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, New York’s Services for Victims of Human Trafficking, the New York Adult Survivors Act, and the Victims of Gender- Motivated Violence Protection Law, and also engaging in intentional infliction of emotional distress. They are seeking certification of their class action lawsuit, as well as various forms of monetary damages.
The lawsuit follows shortly after an extensive investigation was carried out by the BBC, which identified “nearly a dozen victims” of Jeffries and Abercrombie and found that “Jeffries and Smith sexually exploited an unknown number of men during Abercrombie events they hosted around the world.”
In the wake of the BBC investigation in June, Abercrombie said that it had enlisted an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the issues raised. “The company’s current executive leadership team and board of directors were not aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Jeffries,” the company said at the time. “For close to a decade, a new executive leadership team and refreshed board of directors have successfully transformed our brands and culture into the values-driven organization we are today. We have zero tolerance for abuse, harassment, or discrimination of any kind.”
The case is Bradberry v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., et al., 1:23-cv-09440 (SDNY).
Published courtesy of The Fashion Law.