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True Starlight

Supermodels take on sexual harassment in the workplace in Paris.

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Elite Models 1990

Gérald Marie, 70, the former European president of Elite Model Management, has joined the echelons of men in power accused of sexual harassment. In a complaint submitted during Fashion Week 2020 to the Judicial Tribunal in Paris, former Elite models gathered to accuse Marie of sexual harassment, including assault and rape. While their numbers have swelled to 16 today, their allegations, which took place more than two decades ago, can’t be prosecuted criminally due to a French statute of limitation. The sexual assault and rape of an adult cannot be prosecuted in France after 20 years.

“Enough is enough,” said Carla Bruni, one of the most famous models of the ’90s and the former First Lady of France. I stand with the survivors of Gérald Marie as they come to Paris to testify against their abuser.” She's one of many high-profile global leaders now calling for new labor regulations to address sexual harassment in the workplace.

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful

Life Magazine called them “million-dollar faces” when Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington were all commanding million-dollar contracts. “The Trinity” appeared together in the now iconic Vauxhall Corsa commercial for 8.5 million USD, the single most expensive advertising shoot of all time.

Vogue’s editor Anna Wintour said, “those girls were icons of their time,” but Elite’s Gérald Marie was the star maker. Their roads to fame, fortune, or incomprehensible demoralization all began at Elite.

The Season

Civil rights have four distinct seasons in America. The Civil Rights Acts of 1875 > 1957 > 1960 attempted to protect the civil rights of African Americans, with particular attention to their voting rights, but were ultimately varnished by amendments and invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a game changer.

It prohibited discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex. Women, for the first time in American history, could not be discriminated upon based on their sex, and stood shoulder to shoulder with men as applicants, employees, and future managers in the US labor force.

Lin Farley, an instructor at Cornell University, was teaching a class called "Women at Work" where she noticed a recurring theme. Women in the U.S. workforce in 1974 were routinely terminated due to feeling harassed and intimated by men. She coins the phrase “sexual harassment,” and describes the dynamic in a 1975 testimony before the New York City Human Rights Commission.

As complaints began trickling through U.S. courts, prosecutors > attorneys > justices had neither a standard working definition of sexual harassment, nor any case law or precedent with which to prosecute it. Moreover, forced arbitration clauses, hidden deep within the employee’s contracts, ensured that any internal disputes be mediated by the company.

Working Women United — Farley’s woman’s organization dedicated to combating sexual harassment in the workplace — foresaw the confusion and lobbied the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to conjoin sex discrimination to sexual harassment as a federally protected constitutional right. Title VII later expanded woman’s right to sue and collect punitive and compensatory damages for sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

Barns v. Train (1974) is commonly viewed as the first sexual harassment case in America. Opening arguments were heard exactly 10 years to the day following U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

Forced Arbitration

American companies have fought long and hard for the power to hijack their employees and customers right to sue them. Not only do forced arbitration agreements bar individuals from filing their own court claim, they often forbid litigants from pursuing group claims, too.

If your fired because you’re a woman, for example, perhaps you spoke up about the chef heckling servers in the kitchen, your employee contract will ensure you’re telling that sad story to a couple of 60-something white arbitrators at the local Holiday Inn. You may even get a month’s pay to walk away.

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Elite Founder John Casablancas 1990

Since commercial arbitration is based upon the law of treaties, an agreement between the parties to submit their dispute to arbitration is a legally binding contract. All arbitral decisions are considered to be final and binding, thus bypassing the criminal justice system and putting the power to resolve a dispute squarely within the company’s discretion.

Nearly 54% of nonunion, private-sector employers have mandatory arbitration procedures, representing 60 million workers, according to a 2020 Economic Policy Institute study. Among companies with 1,000 or more employees, 65% have mandatory arbitration policies which never see a courtroom. While prospective employees cannot be coerced into signing an arbitration clause, neither will they be hired without signing an employee contract.

A recent United States Supreme Court ruling — EEOC v. Waffle House, Inc — held that forced arbitration agreements cannot prevent the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from pursuing victim-specific relief in litigation on behalf of an employee who files a charge of discrimination.

In 2022, the U.S. Congress passed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act. “For too long, enforcement of pre-dispute mandatory arbitration agreements has served as a potential barrier to justice for individuals who have suffered assault or harassment at work,” says the EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows. “While private parties are bound by arbitration agreements, the EEOC is not. Private parties can continue to file charges of discrimination for the EEOC to investigate and litigate in perpetuity.”

While its difficult to prosecute sexual harassment in France — due to expiring statutes of limitation, and forced arbitration agreements — the United States, who led the global discussion on civil rights in 1964, now ensures that all disputes of sexual harassment be put on the scales of mercy and justice without prejudice.

True Starlight

When Ebba Karlsson left Sweden in 1990, the stars led her to Paris.

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Gérald Marie 1990

“When I arrived at his office,” she began, of her first interview with Gérald Marie, “the first thing he did was lower the blinds. There was a full-length window between his office and the agency,” she explains, of the Elite modeling empire in Paris.

As Marie took the newly signed and papered 20-year old through the magnificent portfolios of supermodels the agency represents, he asked, “savez-vous comment ils ont réussi?” Do you know how they became successful?

He stands from behind the desk, a titan of the modeling industry, who, at just 39 years old, has the power to bend the shape of a person’s soul. He turns the corner of propriety, straddles the casting couch, and assumes a seat next to the ingénue.

The fingers innocently fall on the knee — soon finding their way up the skirt, beyond the silk and to the forbidden — whilst the others perfunctorily turn the plastic pages of a portfolio where Crawford, Iman, Campbell, Alt and Klum are testifying to the success, celebrity and enduring legacy of an Elite model.

Less a violent storm, more a gentle rain that falls at temperatures just below freezing. How well she knew the Gamla stan; where a sudden unforgiving vortex of cold air can transform a glazing event into a picture perfect winter wonderland. New Nordic cuisine and chic cocktail bars somehow invite you onto the cobblestone streets and colorful 17th century buildings, into medieval castles and the Kungliga slotten. Well-rehearsed productions of snow and ice-based games belie the paralysis of winter, and the resplendent beauty of Sweden though frozen, unforgotten.

Yet spectacle and fame, some 32 years on, of an Elite French model in Paris fades. A marriage to a professional golfer, a glamorous life in Monaco, even two impossibly beautiful children must answer to the Longview: the long-term consequence of a singular course of action.

In her memoir, “True Starlight: From Hiding in the Shadows to Being Stellar,” Karlsson dedicates the book to her younger self. A real story of assault, raw descriptions of abuse, and a cautionary tale that authentic power lies in the personality's ability to serve the soul.

These Victorious Angels, a global consortium of abuse survivors of Gérald Marie, spread their once clipped and broken wings and flew to Paris, who, like the goddess Juno, oft flew to Rome to warn a republic of the Gaul's unwelcome approach.

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