Employees of the high-end British retailer Ted Baker have accused chief executive Ray Kelvin of harassment, claiming the workplace is dominated by a culture of inappropriate hugging and touching, as well as sexually suggestive comments.
More than 200 employees released a petition saying the company’s HR department has ignored reports of harassment, which include Kelvin’s “sexual innuendos at staff,” stroking people’s necks, taking off his shirt and openly talking about his sex life. The petition has racked up more than 2,500 public signatures on the employee campaign site Organise. (Typically, workplace harassment complaints are handled through HR or a separate lawsuit, rather than a public petition.)
Ted Baker’s stock price was down more than 15 percent midday Monday.
In a statement, Ted Baker said Kelvin often greets people with hugs, including shareholders, investors, suppliers, customers and colleagues.
“Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon,” the company said.
The company also said it has “clear and robust” HR policies in place, including a confidential and anonymous 24-hour helpline.
In a separate statement, the company said an independent committee had been appointed to ensure “appropriate responses are taken forward.”
Kelvin, 62, founded Ted Baker in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1988. In May, the Tatler estimated Kelvin’s worth at more than $660 million.
One former Ted Baker employee said in the petition that when she was 21 years old, Kelvin started massaging her shoulders and kissing her on the neck. Another employee said that Kelvin always wants hugs from every member of the staff.
“It’s very uncomfortable and unnecessary, a simple handshake can be okay,” the employee said in the petition. “He has kissed the back of the ears of some of the people that work there, too.”
Other employees said Kelvin has asked young female staff members to sit on his knee, cuddle with him or let him massage their ears. Kelvin allegedly invited staff to star in porn movies with him “in the middle of the office in front of everyone.” The petition repeatedly mentioned forced hugs and kisses, as well as hand stroking, massages and Kelvin stroking employees' legs under the table during meetings.
HR has responded to complaints by saying “that’s just what he’s like,” according to the petition. As a result, many employees have left the company over verbal, physical or sexual harassment, convinced that going through “proper channels” like HR “is hopelessly ineffective.”
Kelvin is only the latest retail industry chief executive accused of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Earlier this year, Barnes & Noble fired its chief executive, Demos Parneros, because of claims of sexual harassment and bullying behavior. The bookseller initially said Parneros was terminated for violating company policies, without going into specifics.
In February, model and actress Kate Upton accused Guess co-founder Paul Marciano of sexual harassment, sending company shares plunging. After an investigation into broader allegations including inappropriate comments and texts, as well as unwanted kissing and groping, Marciano resigned. Five of Marciano’s accusers received $500,000 in settlement agreements.
Last year, Signet Jewelers chief executive Mark Light said he would retire due to “health reasons.” Light was at the center of a class-action arbitration in which 69,000 women who worked at a Signet subsidiary, Sterling Jewelers, alleged the company discriminated against them in pay and promotions.
And in 2014, American Apparel ousted its founder and chief executive, Dov Charney, amid allegations of sexual misconduct and misuse of company money. In 2004, a writer for Jane magazine claimed Charney masturbated and engaged in oral sex in front of her. He was also reported to have shown up in his underwear in front of employees and faced several sexual harassment lawsuits.