Guess jeans boss to pay $370m in damages to ex-staffers

LOS ANGELES: On his campaign website for the governorship of California, Guess jeans co-founder Georges Marciano declares he is ‘Fighting for the forgotten average citizen’ and ‘Putting people first, not the rich’.

These sentiments may come as a surprise to the five former employees who have just won $370 million in a defamation lawsuit against him, brought after he wrongly accused them of conspiring to embezzle his money, fine wines and art collection.

The five employees, including a computer technician, an office manager and a receptionist, will each get $69 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, according to the Los Angeles County superior court verdict.

The civil defamation lawsuit came after Marciano sued the five employees in August 2007, accusing them of stealing his emails and other personal information, and conspiring to sell valuable wine from his collection and commit one of the largest art thefts in US history. He claimed that the assets allegedly stolen were worth $413 million.

His lawsuit was thrown out in December 2008, but the employees filed a cross-complaint,

alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A judge found Marciano liable in May.

The five former employees testified that their reputations were ruined after Marciano sent emails and letters to law enforcement agencies and other parties accusing them of theft and fraud. Marciano, who earlier this year announced his intention to run for California governor, was not able to defend himself at the trial. Judge Elizabeth White excluded him from court proceedings earlier this year as a penalty for repeatedly failing to show up at depositions, said Rex Parris, attorney for the five. Eever since White ruled against him, Marciano has waged a campaign against the judge, issuing news releases claiming that she had denied him his rights. He has also sued her in federal court, alleging constitutional violations.

But in a surprise move, Marciano took the stand on Tuesday when Parris asked him if he would apologise to his former employees for the distress he had caused them. The former jeans mogul asked if the attorney was making a joke and claimed he was on a “crusade” to get justice.

Parris said the verdict showed that “being rich does not mean you have the power to ruin the lives of other people on a whim or suspicion”. One of the employees, Steven Chapnick, who worked for Marciano for three years as an assistant, told the Los Angeles Times that he felt “vindicated” by the jury’s verdict.

Marciano, 62, was the founding designer of Guess, the company that introduced stonewashed jeans to the US, in 1982. His three brothers bought him out for $240 million in 1993.