Business

Axel Springer Accused of Failing to Stop Sexual Harassment

The accusations of workplace misconduct against a former top editor at the news giant Axel Springer have made their way to a California court.

A former employee in the United States has sued Axel Springer and one of its publications, the German tabloid Bild, accusing the companies of failing to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation as well as aiding and abetting that conduct. The suit asks for unspecified damages.

The lawsuit centers on the workplace conduct of Julian Reichelt, a former top editor of Bild and one of the most powerful journalists in Europe. Mr. Reichelt was dismissed last year, after The New York Times reported details about his relationship with the woman behind the lawsuit.

According to the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in August, Mr. Reichelt groomed the former employee for sex after she started a traineeship at the company in 2016. He transferred her to a job in Berlin and frequently summoned her for sex at hotels near the Axel Springer office there, the suit says.

In the lawsuit, she said she was shunned by co-workers who suspected an affair and teased for her stress-related psoriasis. She said her complaints were not dealt with by Axel Springer while she was later working for the company in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where she said she also faced harassment, leading her to file the suit in California.

“We are reviewing the lawsuit and will comment on it in due course,” an Axel Springer spokesman said in an email.

Mr. Reichelt, who is not named as a defendant in the suit, said in a statement: “The allegations are lies. They will not stand.” He recently started an opinion show, “Attention, Reichelt!”, on YouTube.

Lawyers for the woman did not respond to requests for comment.

Axel Springer is in the middle of a big expansion in the United States. Last year, it bought Politico for more than $1 billion. It previously purchased Business Insider, now known as Insider, as well as a majority stake in the business newsletter Morning Brew.

Axel Springer has been subject to intense scrutiny over Mr. Reichelt’s conduct and the company’s response to allegations about him. The latest lawsuit is a signal that the scandal could be far from over.

The woman says she complained to a senior Axel Springer executive in the United States about harassment she received from her colleagues about her relationship with Mr. Reichelt. The executive told the woman she had also previously had an affair with Mr. Reichelt and had also been the subject of rumors. The executive told the woman, according to the lawsuit: “That’s just how it is at Axel Springer. You have to accept that.”

The woman stopped working for Bild after her contract ran out in 2020.

In early 2021, Axel Springer began an investigation into Mr. Reichelt’s relationships with multiple subordinates and accusations of abuse of power. The woman gave an account of her treatment to investigators. Mr. Reichelt, who was suspended for 12 days, was reinstated after the investigation cleared him, finding he had not broken any laws.

When Axel Springer fired Mr. Reichelt later that year, the company said that it had learned new information about Mr. Reichelt’s conduct, and that he had misled the company’s board.

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