Steiff worker files $80M sexual harrassment suit
By JENNIFER PELTZ/None
June 8, 2009 at 1:08 a.m.
NEW YORK (AP) — A marketing executive for the German toy maker Steiff filed an $80 million lawsuit Monday accusing the company's CEO of raping her in a car during a yearslong campaign of unwelcome advances.
Jane Collins' lawsuit says the company, known for its teddy bears and other stuffed animals, did nothing to stop Martin Frechen's "extreme and outrageous conduct," despite her repeated complaints. Through lawyers, Frechen and the company denied her allegations.
The lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, where the lawsuit said Frechen sexually harassed Collins during trade shows this winter and in 2007.
The rape, according to the lawsuit, happened in 2004 near the German company's North American headquarters in Raynham, Mass. A week after allegedly fondling her at a corporate event, the complaint says Frechen — who was moving back to Germany — asked Collins to accompany him to a storage unit where he planned to keep his wife's car. He then closed the storage locker's door and sexually assaulted her in the front passenger seat, the lawsuit said.
Collins, a 32-year-old single mother, never contacted police out of fear for her job, according to her attorney, Christopher Brennan.
She remains assistant marketing manager at Steiff's North American arm, where she started working in 2000. Its global parent, Margarete Steiff GmbH, is based in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany.
Frechen says Collins' allegations are meritless, and "intends to vigorously defend himself against these claims and believes he ultimately will prevail," said his lawyer, Michael L. Rosen. An attorney for the company, David Rosenthal, said it is "committed to providing a safe and comfortable working environment for all of its employees" and will contest Collins' claims.
Collins recorded her alleged encounters with Frechen in her diary. She appealed to Steiff's North American chief for help in dealing with Frechen, but the U.S. executive never reported or investigated her complaints, her lawsuit said.
"They were confronted with numerous reports of sexual harassment and did nothing," Brennan said.
Steiff's stuffed-animal kingdom dates to 1880, and some of its products are prized by collectors.