CEO of family-owned German toymakers Steiff is accused of a prolonged campaign of sexual harassment against a fellow employee.
Assistant marketing manager Jane Collins (pictured) accused non-family chief executive, Martin Frechen, of rape in 2004 followed by a continued campaign of sexual harassment.
The $80 million lawsuit has been filed in the New York State Supreme Court, as the alleged harassment began while Frechen was chief executive of North American operations. Collins served as Frechen's executive assistant, before progressing to assistant marketing manager.
Although in 2006 Frechen was promoted to chief executive of worldwide operations, the sustained harassment did not end. Collins claims he continued to make unwanted advances when he was visiting America for toy fairs and other business.
Collins said she did not report the abuse to the police for fear of losing her job, "I was a single mom at the time and I simply couldn't afford to lose this job. He wasn't just my boss, he was the head of the company. It's only more recently that I've come to accept the fact that he raped me. Before, I had put it out of my mind because I thought there was nothing I could do and he was leaving the country."
Steiff's vice president of finance and operations in North America, Dieter Satzinger, said: "Steiff North America is committed to providing a safe and comfortable work environment for all its employees." The company has denied the accusations via lawyers.
Frechen has been seen as the public face of Steiff, posing with their famous stuffed animals for promotional purposes and the media. He was made CEO of North American operations in 2002 and CEO of worldwide operations in 2006.
The company, which was founded in 1880 by Margarete Steiff, is still family-owned and based in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany.