By  on March 19, 2010

TOKYO — A former senior retail manager at Prada Japan is suing the Japanese subsidiary of the Italian luxury goods house, accusing the company of harassing and discriminating against its staff members, including herself, on the basis of physical appearance.

Rina Bovrisse, who filed her lawsuit Friday, alleges Prada Japan chief executive officer Davide Sesia asked her last year to “eliminate” about 15 store managers and another 15 retail staff members because he considered them overweight or unattractive.

Prada has denied the charges. “You can’t stop people suing you,” said a Milan-based spokesman. “We are very serene and we’ll fight back in the appropriate way.” Contacted by e-mail, Sesia deferred to the company’s press office.

In December, Bovrisse filed a labor complaint with the Tokyo District Court and the last of three closed-door hearings took place March 12. Shortly thereafter, she was fired from the company. While Prada has indicated the court ruled in its favor, Bovrisse said that’s not the case.

Prada said last week the court dismissed all of Bovrisse’s accusations and ruled that the termination of her employment was perfectly legitimate. But Bovrisse maintains that, since the court did not reach a settlement between the parties, she is free to pursue a lawsuit against the company. The trial, which would be open to the public, likely would last about one year, Bovrisse said.

Bovrisse claims Sesia requested she remove about 30 employees, mostly women in their late 30s and early 40s, from their positions at stores. These people were subsequently demoted to positions at outlets or stores at remote locations, but many of them ended up resigning from the company, she said.

The Bovrisse-Prada dispute came to light last week in a report in the English-language newspaper The Japan Times.

The former retail manager, who maintains a human resources manager told her to lose weight and change her hair color, said she hopes the suit will inspire more Japanese women to speak up when they are treated unfairly. Japan’s deferential corporate culture has convinced women here that it’s better to stay quiet, said Bovrisse.

Bovrisse, a Japanese national, has more than a decade of experience in the fashion industry including an eight-year run at Chanel in both the U.S. and Japan as well as a year-and-a-half stint at Prada’s U.S. headquarters in New York.

She is seeking compensation for emotional damages and her lawyers’ fees.

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