The next chapter in the ongoing legal dispute between Alex and Ani and Michael Mota, an executive who worked on the company’s behalf, is set for Oct. 27 in Providence Superior Court.
In response to a lawsuit filed by Mota, the Cranston, R.I.-based accessories company and its founder Carolyn Rafaelian are asking the dismissal of numerous counts. Rafelian, Alex and Ani, as well as its general counsel and senior vice president Suzanne Kelly, and Seven Swords Media are named in Mota’s suit. Started in 2004, Alex and Ani is now a company with 46 stores, 1,000-plus employees and sales that are said to be north of $230 million. A company spokeswoman declined to comment on the brand’s annual volume.
In addition to its core brand, Alex and Ani’s creative director Rafaelian has branched out into other ventures, establishing the Alex and Ani Institute, which “offers workshops, learning journeys and courses birthed to awaken, nurture and inspire human development through self-understanding and systems thinking,” according to the brand’s Web site. In 2012, the Rhode Island native bought Belcourt Castle, one of the storied mansions on Newport’s historic Bellevue Avenue, and has since restored the property. That same year as part of an ongoing initiative to invest in the local economy, she bought Sakonnet Vineyards in nearby Little Compton, R.I. Renamed Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, the 170-acre property offers a summer concert series among other activities. Known to be unconventional in its marketing, the receptionist at Alex and Ani’s corporate headquarters greets callers with, “How can I make a difference in your day?”
In 2012, as vice president of sales at Mediapeel, an ad agency, Mota said he worked closely with Alex and Ani’s former interim chief executive officer Giovanni Feroce, helping to facilitate Alex and Ani’s purchase of Mediapeel and its subsequent reorganization into Seven Swords. In a phone interview Wednesday, Mota said when he started working with the company annual sales were about $1 million and there were 20 employees working out of a Rhode Island warehouse. Mota later became Seven Swords’ vice president of development, and alleges to have been promised equity compensation by Feroce in the form of stock options. Feroce exited the company in March 2014.
Mota alleges Feroce’s departure signaled “many systematic firings of male executives,” including seven senior-level ones who are cited in the suit. Mota also claims to have facilitated the buyout of Seven Swords’ media and marketing division by GoGo Media Networks, and that he was supposed to receive $250,000 worth of GoGo Media stock and $100,000 upon joining the company.
Mota’s 26-page complaint includes such charges as wrongful termination, breach of contract, defamation, computer theft, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Moto’s complaint also notes that he was forced to speak each month with Jocelyn Coleman, Rafaelian’s “master intuitive,” who allegedly quizzed him about his relationship with his family and wife in what were said to be private sessions, though he claims the details of which were recorded and later shared with Rafaelian. The suit alleges that select Seven Swords employees were required to spend substantial amounts of company time on Rafaeilian’s personal ventures. Mota also claims the company had a shaman who had a hand in hirings and store openings.
In response to Mota’s suit, Rafaelian’s and Alex and Ani’s legal team at Adler, Pollock & Sheehan filed a motion to dismiss, asking the court to strike numerous claims, including that his May 2014 termination was based on gender. Asked about the pending legal dispute, an Alex and Ani spokeswoman released the following statement: “Mr. Mota was terminated from Seven Swords Media LLC more than a year ago when his position was eliminated as part of a restructuring of Seven Swords. He never worked for Alex and Ani. However, even if he had not otherwise been terminated as part of the Seven Swords restructuring, there were numerous documented, legitimate and nondiscriminatory grounds that supported his termination from Seven Swords, including his inappropriate and unprofessional management style. In addition, Mr. Mota has admitted publicly in his interview with the Providence Business News that his termination was part of dissolving the Seven Swords entity.
“Mr. Mota’s allegations are both factually and legally wrong, and the company will vigorously defend this suit,” the statement read. “Alex and Ani is confident that these baseless claims will ultimately be rejected by a judge or a jury.”