Adidas could have some legal problems on its hands, experts have warned, after Kanye West was recently accused of subjecting employees at his Yeezy shoe company to bullying and sexual harassment.
A Rolling Stone article published last week detailed allegations that the musician and fashion designer, 45, showed pornography and explicit photos and videos of his ex-wife Kim Kardashian in meetings with Yeezy and Adidas staff.
There are also allegations that West, who has legally changed his name to Ye, used intimidation tactics with consultants and staffers hired to work on the popular shoes, which have been made in partnership with sportswear giant Adidas since 2013.
The allegations were detailed in an open letter titled “The Truth About Yeezy: A Call to Action for Adidas Leadership,” which also accused top executives at the company of overlooking West’s purported behavior, according to Rolling Stone. The letter was sent by several former high-ranking employees for Yeezy, according to the magazine’s article.
In response to the allegations, a spokesperson for Adidas told Newsweek that it was conducting an investigation.
The representative said in a statement that the company “does not tolerate hate speech and offensive behavior and therefore has terminated the Adidas Yeezy partnership. We have been and continue to be actively engaged in conversations with our employees about the events that led to our decision to end the partnership. They have our full support and…we’re working through the details of the termination.”
“It is currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true,” the statement continued. “However, we take these allegations very seriously and have taken the decision to launch an independent investigation of the matter immediately to address the allegations.”
While Adidas severed business ties with West in October following his antisemitic comments on social media and in interviews, the company could be on precarious legal ground because of the allegations against him. Newsweek spoke with three legal experts to get their take on where the company would stand should the allegations result in litigation.
Andrew Lieb, managing partner at Lieb at Law, P.C., told Newsweek there is no doubt that there are grounds for a lawsuit regarding West’s alleged actions, although the complainants would face time limits.
“Showing your staff porn is almost certainly a form of sexual harassment, which is actionable sex discrimination for creating a hostile work environment,” Lieb said.
“While the defense to such a claim could be that the staff welcomed seeing the porn, it’s a really tough defense to make because consented conduct can still be unwelcomed in the context of employment where there are power differentials between the boss and his staff,” Lieb said.
He continued: “However, for this claim to succeed federally, employees needed to make a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days of the wrong. Nonetheless, claims in states like New York can be made for up to three years.
“Regardless, if Kanye historically was engaging in such reckless and discriminatory behavior, you can be sure that he still is. All you have to do is turn over some stones and speak to his staff to find new and further examples of actionable workplace discrimination.”
Frank Salzano, managing partner of Salzano Ettinger, Lampert & Wilson, LLP, an entertainment and sports law firm, said this latest development provides an interesting legal twist in the Adidas Yeezy partnership.
He said that if Adidas was aware of the hostile work environment allegedly created by Ye and allowed it to go on for the sake of profit, it could face serious legal consequences.
With this in mind, criminal defense attorney David Schwartz of Schwartz Defense said that complainants should press ahead with action against Adidas.
“Federal, state and local laws protect employees in the workplace from all forms of harassment,” he said. “Employees have a right to work in an environment that is free from all forms of harassment and especially sexual harassment, and it seems that this company is a magnet of abuse based on the allegations, and those allegations should be litigated in courts of competent jurisdiction.”
Newsweek has reached out for comment to West and Kardashian.
After West last month made antisemitic comments on social media and in subsequent interviews, Adidas said it was cutting ties with the star.
A representative for the company told Newsweek that it “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech. Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.”
The representative continued: “After a thorough review, the company has taken the decision to terminate the partnership with Ye immediately, end production of Yeezy branded products and stop all payments to Ye and his companies. Adidas will stop the Adidas Yeezy business with immediate effect.”
Forbes reported that the end of the business relationship caused West’s net worth to plummet from $2 billion to a comparatively low $400 million.
Adidas was already conducting a review of its relationship with West before his antisemitic Twitter posts. The company launched a review in early October after West wore a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt to his Yeezy fashion show and publicly criticized Adidas.
“After repeated efforts to privately resolve the situation, we have taken the decision to place the partnership under review,” Adidas said in a statement, according to CNN. “We will continue to co-manage the current product during this period.”
In September, West accused Adidas and Gap of stealing his designs and attempting to shut him out of business meetings. West’s apparel deal with Gap came to an end soon afterward.
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