One former employee of the high-end British retailer Ted Baker alleged that when she was 21 years old, chief executive Ray 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.
These complaints are lodged in a petition released by more than 200 employees Monday, which says that their workplace is dominated by a culture of inappropriate hugging and touching, as well as sexually suggestive comments.
By now, the petition has garnered more than 2,500 public signatures. Complaints of harassment were lodged specifically against Kelvin, and the petition accuses the company’s HR department of ignoring 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.
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.”
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.
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.