New York Bill Designed to Protect Fashion Models

Sexual Harassment Lawyers Assisting Members of the Fashion Industry in New York City

Harassment and abuse of models has been a pervasive issue in the fashion industry. In response to this long-standing concern, Democratic New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic plans to introduce an amendment to the existing anti-discrimination laws in the state of New York. The amendment would provide specific protections for models in New York, many of whom are classified as independent contractors. At Phillips & Associates, our experienced New York City sexual harassment attorneys may be able to help you if you are a model or actress who has been sexually harassed in the fashion industry or a related field.

What Would the Proposed Bill Do?

Under the proposed amendment, existing anti-discrimination laws would expand to explicitly include models. The amendment would outlaw harassment in addition to sexual advances and sex discrimination associated with their employment. It would require all clients who book a model to provide them with an avenue to file complaints. The overarching goal is to develop an HR department for models. The result could be greater accountability for people in the industry. If there is sufficient public support and the bill passes next year, it could be signed into law by 2019.

Why is the Bill Needed?

The New York State Human Rights Law protects employees from sexual harassment. However, not everyone in the state works as an employee, and independent contractors are left unprotected. Models in the state of New York need special legal protection because their employment status is complex. Often, they are classified as independent contractors, with their agencies claiming to act in an advisory role. A client books a model through an agency but does not have a contract directly with the model. Since the model is not a traditional employee, it is hard to pursue remedies against any of the parties in a position of authority over the model. New York is the center for modeling in the U.S., so if models do not have protection in the state, it can influence what is considered acceptable in the entire industry.

Models may also need special legal protection. For models, it is not unusual to be in potentially exploitative situations in which a photographer, agent, or client believes that since they are paying the model or providing the model with a platform, they have a right to their body. Under existing federal and state laws, none of these parties may have an employer-employee relationship with the model that would allow them to file suit for damages. A model would only be able to sue for workplace sexual harassment if they were working in-house and were considered an employee.

Examples of Sexual Harassment in the Modeling Industry

Sexual harassment in the modeling industry may include both actions and words, and often speaking out is not sufficient to curb abusive practices. For example, in 2014, a model alleged that a certain photographer had asked her to touch his genitalia. Some magazines pledged not to use this photographer because of his abusive behavior, but by the next year, he was shooting covers for other fashion magazines. Another model has stated that even at age 14, she was told to sit in her booker's lap and being told to go topless or nude without warning during gigs.

Why Not Pursue a Criminal Case?

It is possible for a model to report sexual harassment to the police or a district attorney. However, it is rare for a model to seek recourse through these channels. Often, models are extremely young, not fluent in English, and without a support system that would make reporting the crime possible. Moreover, even if criminal charges were brought for sexual assault or rape, they would be brought on behalf of the state, rather than on behalf of the individual model. Rarely is the restitution provided in a criminal case sufficient to truly compensate for the economic and emotional harms related to sexual abuse.

Consult a Knowledgeable Sexual Harassment Lawyer in New York City

For many models, it is extremely stressful to face the possibility of sexual harassment on the job. People in film and modeling may feel too afraid and ashamed to speak out, partially because to do so could result in being blackballed from the industry and a loss of employment opportunities. At Phillips & Associates, we are familiar with a wide range of sexual harassment situations. We can develop a strategy to pursue damages and other remedies from a perpetrator of harassment or abuse. We combat employment discrimination and harassment in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, as well as on Long Island and in Westchester County. Contact us at (866) 229-9441 or through our online form.

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