Sexual Harassment Affects Male Models in New York City’s Fashion Industry

The fashion industry in New York City and elsewhere around the country and the world has produced numerous accounts of the sexual harassment of models. Alleged New York sexual harassment incidents have involved photographers during shoots, or a wide range of people backstage during fashion shows, where models are often expected to change clothes without much privacy. Much of the attention has focused on female models. An article published earlier this year in the New York Times details male models’ allegations of sexual harassment. Men experience sexual harassment at lower overall rates than women, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reporting that seventeen percent of the complaints it receives are from men. The modeling business presents an unusual situation, however, since it is one of the very few jobs where women routinely—and often significantly—earn more than men. Both female and male models have alleged various types of sexual harassment, including “casting couch” situations where they are told they must acquiesce to demands for sexual activity in order to advance in their careers.

Federal, state, and municipal laws in New York City prohibit sexual harassment, classifying it as a form of sex discrimination. Unlawful sexual harassment may take two broad forms. The “casting couch” scenario described above is an example of “quid pro quo sexual harassment,” where sexual activity of some sort is made a condition of obtaining employment, or of accessing various features and benefits of employment. The modeling business also presents scenarios that could constitute “hostile work environment.” This type of sexual harassment involves unwanted sexual behavior in the workplace, ranging from jokes or remarks to nonconsensual contact, which is pervasive enough to interfere with the complainant’s ability to work.

Models often exist somewhat outside of traditional employee/employer relationships, which can affect their ability to assert a claim under the law. They are represented by agencies, who enter into agreements with fashion brands and other companies. Those companies might be the ones to hire the photographer. According to the New York Times, the agencies and the brands point fingers at each other with regard to who is responsible for protecting models from sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of photographers and others. The photographers, the Times article states, “say they do what they do to get the best picture — which is what the clients want.”

The Times article notes another vulnerability that particularly affects models: a lack of union organization or other forms of representation that could address these issues. Models’ “youth and eagerness for a measure of stardom,” the Times states, “make them disinclined to complain.”

Male models, according to some, might have particular difficulty complaining about sexual harassment. One former model quoted by the Times said that male models “are “the least respected and most disposable.” They are paid less on average than female models, in part because of the fashion industry’s emphasis on female beauty and sexuality. Male models are therefore far less likely to achieve significant fame or fortune. More to the point, they have less of a voice within the industry.

Phillips & Associates’ team of experienced and knowledgeable employment attorneys represents employees, former employees, and job seekers in New York City. We advocates for our clients’ rights in claims for sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and other unlawful workplace practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Bill in New York State Legislature Addresses Fashion Industry Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 22, 2018

New York Lawmaker Takes Steps to Protect Fashion Models in Wake of Recent Sexual Abuse Allegations, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 23, 2017

Fashion Models Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Labor Law Violations, and Other Fashion Industry Problems, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 13, 2014

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