Guess Inc. co-founder Paul Marciano is relinquishing his day-to-day responsibilities on an unpaid basis, pending the completion of an investigation by the board of directors into recent allegations of improper sexual conduct, the company said in a press release.
On Feb. 7, the board formed a special committee of two independent directors to oversee an ongoing investigation into the allegations. The investigation is being conducted by law firm O'Melveny & Myers, and the committee has also retained law firm Glaser Weil.
Last month model and actress Kate Upton, who has worked for the brand, accused Marciano of sexual harassment via Twitter and, earlier this month, model Miranda Vee, who previously accused Marciano and real estate developer Mohamed Hadid of sexual harassment and assault, filed a report against the two men with the Los Angeles police.
After a couple of high-profile accusations against its founder, Guess isn't taking chances in a climate that has little tolerance for sweeping allegations of sexual harassment and assault under the rug. Upton in her tweet last month suggested Guess, as an apparel company focused on women, should do better.
The company in a press release on Tuesday said that it's taking any allegations of sexual misconduct "very seriously, is committed to maintaining a safe work environment, and looks forward to the completion of a thorough investigation of all the facts."
In a statement, Marciano himself pledged his full cooperation and said he had confidence in CEO Victor Herrero's leadership in the time being.
Guess is hardly alone. In early December, J.C. Penney discontinued sales of Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons's apparel label, Argyleculture, after a second sexual misconduct charge emerged. Later that month, Walmart, Target and Eataly — Mario Batali's retail and restaurant business — cut ties with the chef after his admission of sexual misconduct.
Meanwhile, Signet Jewelers' three retail banners — Jared, Kay and Zales — appear to be losing female customers in light of sexual harassment and discrimination issues at the company, according to a brand assessment study from YouGov BrandIndex last year. Women's perception of the brand and their "purchase consideration" levels are both down, according to a measurement of potential sales revenue.
Lululemon two weeks ago ousted CEO Laurent Potdevin over what the company described as improper conduct. Sources familiar with the situation told CNBC it was in part due to a multi-year relationship with a female designer at the company. Some analysts have grown frustrated over that brand's reluctance to be more forthcoming about the allegations against Potdevin, who otherwise was widely seen as a highly effective chief executive.
"My rule of thumb is — the behavior of the brand is the brand," Mark Lipton, graduate professor of management at The New School and author of "Mean Men, The Perversion of America's Self-Made Man," told Retail Dive in an interview last week. He also said that boards need to be more proactive about watching over the culture at their companies.
"Boards need to step up and take on a new role, of stewardship of culture," Lipton said. "It's so related to performance. There's solid research, scholarship coming out of business schools, that the more gender diversity on boards the better, that it goes straight to the bottom line. To me it's 'case closed.'"