Alleged 'sex-fueled' parties on L'Oreal business trips result in suit

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Credit: L'Oréal USA

A former vice president of digital marketing has sued L'Oréal USA for race, sex and disability discrimination in a 40-page complaint describing "sex-fueled" parties on European business trips and a boss watching porn on his phone.

L'Oréal denies the allegations, which it says it investigated but were uncorroborated by other employees, adding that she was fired for unprofessional conduct.

Amanda Johnson, an African-American executive, worked for two years on the Matrix and Biolage brands, got promoted quickly and was showcased as an example of diversity by L'Oréal globally, according to her complaint in U.S. District Court in New York. She's seeking reinstatement, back pay, legal costs and punitive damages. Besides the parties and porn, Johnson also alleges she felt physically threatened by a colleague and suffered anxiety and depression from stress, which the complaint cites as her disability.

Johnson, a former news producer for NBC Universal and executive with Omnicom, joined L'Oréal in April 2016 as assistant vice president of digital marketing. She moved up to vice president by July 2017 after being praised for work that included bringing global executives up to speed on digital marketing, the complaint says.

But problems began surfacing not long after she joined the company, the complaint says.

After less than two months on the job, Johnson was featured at a global business meeting, and later in internal videos and external social media, "to give a false impression of diversity," according to the complaint.

Johnson also alleges that her boss, Dan Bethelmy Rada, global president of Matrix and Biolage, asked her to lure junior employees to join a party at his suite in a Rome hotel during a July 2016 business trip. She says she refused but "worried she had burned a bridge."

During a meeting earlier this year, according to the complaint. Rada was viewing porn site Pornhub, holding his phone up and saying he wouldn't have been watching had the presentation by a subordinate been more interesting.

In May, Rada went missing prior to an important Paris meeting, Johnson says. As they waited for Rada, Johnson got into a confrontation with colleague Nicholas Krafft, vice president of business development, and felt physically threatened, the complaint says. She complained to Rada about Krafft in a text, attributing his behavior to racism and sexism, though the filing doesn't detail remarks or physical abuse by Krafft.

Rada and Krafft did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.

The complaint says Rada told Johnson they'd discuss the Krafft incident when she returned to the U.S. in June. But when she arrived, she instead was fired, and accused of using expletives during the confrontation and told that L'Oréal won't tolerate executives cursing at one another, according to the complaint.

The complaint says a subordinate of Johnson's, whom she sought to fire for plagiarism and other sloppy work, also appears to have contributed to Johnson's firing by accusing her of bullying.

L'Oréal, in a statement, says Johnson was fired for "a pattern of unprofessional conduct that surfaced during her final months at the company, including what in our view was abusive and threatening behavior toward colleagues, serious lapses in judgment, and declining performance."

After she was fired, Johnson "raised some alarming allegations about her manager and certain co-workers through a lawyer," L'Oréal says. "We took her allegations seriously and investigated them all with great care, as they had not been reported to Human Resources when she was with the company. We interviewed those at the company who would have been in a position to corroborate the alleged behaviors of her manager and co-workers, including those that Ms. Johnson identified as witnesses. Not one of these individuals substantiated her claims."

The statement says, "L'Oréal is an equal opportunity employer that is committed to building a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace."

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