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Teddy bear maker hit with harassment suit

  • Story Highlights
  • Female manager sues Steiff CEO, alleging sexual harassment and assault
  • Lawsuit also claims company did not stop the harassment after she complained
  • Steiff and CEO Martin Frechen deny all allegations
By Mythili Rao
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A female marketing executive is suing the chief executive officer of a famous toy manufacturer, accusing him of sexually harassing and assaulting her.

Steiff CEO Martin Frechen denies all the allegations. Both the company, known as the makers of the original Teddy bears, and another executive named in the lawsuit also deny the allegations in the lawsuit.

The plaintiff, Jane Collins, now 32, joined Steiff as a temporary receptionist in 2000. She became Frechen's executive assistant in 2002, when he was named CEO of Steiff North America.

Collins' lawsuit, filed Monday in New York state Supreme Court, contends that the harassment began in fall 2004, shortly before Frechen was to leave for Germany.

After Collins rebuffed Frechen's advances in a hotel room and parking lot, he asked for her assistance in moving his wife's car to a storage unit, where he raped her, Collins alleges in her court filings.

Collins' attorney, Chris Brennan, said his client was afraid that reporting the assault could jeopardize her job. She did not call police.

"I was a single mom at the time, and I simply couldn't afford to lose this job," Collins said in a statement issued by her attorney. The suit alleges that Frechen's unwanted advances continued after the assault, until as recently as February 2009.

"I had put it out of my mind, because I thought there was nothing I could do," she said.

Brennan said, "The company had in place no policies and procedures to inform her otherwise.

"This is a company that makes millions a dollars a year here in North America, and they didn't invest a dollar in training or educating their employees on sexual harassment policy."

Collins is seeking $80 million in damages.

In addition to the allegations against Frechen, the suit alleges that the company, Margarete Steiff GmbH, Steiff North America Inc. and the company's head of U.S. operations, James Pitocco, are culpable for failing to take appropriate measures to stop Frechen's harassment after Collins reported his behavior.

"Steiff North America is committed to providing a safe and comfortable working environment for all of its employees. It does not comment on pending litigation. However, Steiff North America, Margarete Steiff and James Pitocco resolutely deny the allegations in Ms. Collins' complaint and will vigorously defend the claims made by her in court," David Rosenthal, an attorney for the company, said in a statement.

"They are confident that when all of the facts and circumstances relevant to this case are revealed during this litigation, Ms. Collins' claims will fail."

Michael Rosen, attorney for Frechen, issued a similar statement on behalf of his client.

"Mr. Frechen believes the plaintiff's claims are entirely without merit," he said. "He intends to vigorously defend himself against these claims and believes he ultimately will prevail."

Founded by German seamstress Margarete Steiff, the Steiff toy company produced its first plush animal, a felt elephant pincushion, in 1880.

In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt was president when Steiff launched the plush bear that would become the company's signature. Quickly dubbed "Teddy's bear," 3,000 Steiff bears -- now collectors items -- were sold worldwide that year.

Collins, a mother of two, continues to work for Steiff as an assistant marketing manager.

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