Abercrombie and Fitch is in the midst of a major comeback, but the retailer is still being haunted by the alleged sins of former chief executive Mike Jeffries.
The company was sued Friday for turning a blind eye to Jeffries’ alleged misconduct, court records show. He’s accused of running a sprawling sex trafficking ring that exploited young men hoping to become models for the brand.
The suit alleges that Jeffries, who’s also listed as a defendant, sexually abused numerous men under the guise it would land them coveted modeling contracts.
It comes just weeks after the BBC published an investigation into Jeffries and Abercrombie that made similar accusations.
In response, a company spokesperson told CNBC it does not comment on pending litigation. However, after the BBC’s story was published, the company said it was “appalled and disgusted” by Jeffries’ alleged behavior. It said it had contacted an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the issues the BBC 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.”
An attorney for Jeffries didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
David Bradberry, who brought the suit, claims that he was recruited for a modeling opportunity in 2010 and introduced to a scout who said he was working on behalf of the brand.
“He then made it clear to David Bradberry that he held the key to the next level in the Abercrombie process and that unless he let the scout perform oral sex on him, Bradberry would not be meeting with Abercrombie or its CEO, Michael Jeffries,” the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, states.
Bradberry was then assaulted by the scout and paid, the lawsuit states.
Soon after, he was invited to a casting event at Jeffrie’s house in the Hamptons that Bradberry assumed was a “legitimate Abercrombie-sponsored function” because it included a meeting with the CEO and he was forced to wear the brand’s clothes for the event, the lawsuit states.
But instead of a professional casting event, Bradberry was soon raped by Jeffries and forced to take poppers – a type of drug that made him feel lightheaded, the suit states.
“Amidst the confusion caused by the poppers, David Bradberry began to focus on the four older, larger, physically fit men who appeared to be security guards observing the activity in the room,” the lawsuit alleges.
“These imposing men, dressed in Abercrombie clothing, caused Bradberry to feel like there was no way that he could leave the room safely or resist what Jeffries was demanding.”
Following the event, Bradberry was flown to Nice, France, where he was again forced to perform sex acts on Jeffries, the suit states.
The lawsuit, which is seeking class action status, alleges that similar events happened to more than one hundred other victims and Abercrombie allowed it to happen.
Jeffries, who previously served as the president of the bankrupt women’s retail chain Alcott & Andrews, was tapped by Abercrombie’s former owner Leslie Wexner to be the brand’s CEO in 1992 and bring it back to life.
Under his tenure, Abercrombie became one of the most prominent names in retail and was known for its sexually charged advertising and shirtless male models, who were frequently positioned outside of the brand’s stores.
The company saw steady growth in earnings and sales during that time, but its success was soon overshadowed by accusations of discrimination against its staff and claims that its clothes were only meant for attractive people.
In 2004, Abercrombie paid $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against Black, Hispanic and Asian employees. In 2012, it settled a case brought by a former pilot that accused the company of age discrimination.
Following its mid-2000s heyday, Abercrombie developed a reputation for racism and being a clothing brand that was only reserved for certain types of people and lost relevancy among American consumers.
Jeffries left the company in 2014 and Abercrombie has since rebranded itself as an inclusive retailer under CEO Fran Horowitz, who became the company’s chief executive in 2017.
Recently, Abercrombie has surprised Wall Street with earnings and profits that blew past estimates and has opened new stores, even as other retailers close doors and the economic outlook remains uncertain.
The company’s shares have more than doubled this year.