Activewear brand Lorna Jane has attempted to enlist the support of its more than 1 million Facebook followers as it defends itself against bullying and harassment claims levelled by a former employee.
But the brand’s decision to create a hashtag for its defence against the former store manager has been slammed, with many Facebook commenters calling the business a bully.
Former Lorna Jane store manager Amy Robinson filed a legal claim against the company in Brisbane on Tuesday, alleging Lorna Jane management attempted to cover up the bullying she endured about her weight while working for the company.
According to news.com.au, Robinson, who worked for Lorna Jane for around six months in 2012, is seeking more than $500,000 for pain and suffering.
Robinson alleges she was forced to work long hours with little support and senior Lorna Jane staff members frequently commented on her weight and lifestyle choices and suggested she skip meals.
She claims she was also repeatedly asked about her health and exercise regime during her interview and induction for the job.
“(Some staff) would often skip meals and live on coffee, and (they) tried to encourage us to do the same thing,” Robinson told news.com.au.
“We were meant to be nourishing our bodies but we were never allowed to do that.”
Robinson’s lawyers, Shine Lawyers, have said they will argue Lorna Jane did not provide a safe place of work.
“Amy was picked on because of her weight and frequently endured offensive and demeaning remarks,” said Kimberly Allen from Shine Laywers.
“Not only did management ignore the bullying and allow Amy’s suffering to be prolonged, we allege that they actively covered it up.”
Lorna Jane has said it “vehemently denies all allegations made by Ms Robinson and will fearlessly defend this matter”, but said in a statement it is limited in what it can say about the allegations as the matter is before the courts.
However, the brand also appealed to its 1.1 million Facebook fans with a post last night using the hashtag #TellTheTruth.
“We proudly employ more than 1300 women across Australia and pride ourselves on the positive culture within out business,” Lorna Jane said in the now-deleted Facebook post.
“We believe the claims that are being made are grandstanding on the claimant’s behalf and Shine Lawyers. We are very disappointed by what has been reported by the media, as this does not reflect the actual claim being made which relates to a workplace injury and direct management of the claimant, in which Lorna Jane acted swiftly when the business was notified.
“Lorna Jane is an Australian company that has worked hard for 26 years to empower women and build a brand and working environment that provides progressive career paths, innovative mentorship and a positive culture that has forged one of Australia’s most successful fashion brands.”
Several Facebook users have left comments on the post sharing their positive experiences with the brand, including a number of current employees and customers.
However, at least 30 commenters accused Lorna Jane of being a bully by attempting to start a hashtag campaign on social media over the claims.
“It’s a bit disconcerting, regardless of the situation, that Lorna Jane as a very large company is using their existing public platforms to start a hashtag campaign against an individual,” said one commenter.
“Even if you do reject the claims being made, this post reeks of rallying the troops to help bully someone.”
“Starting a hashtag campaign and airing your legal issues on social media is embarrassing, and it’s bullying,” said another.
“#tellthetruth social media fail! This goes completely against what you have portrayed yourself as Lorna Jane. Using this platform to rally support against one women is hardly empowering women! Hey let’s all use our brand to go against one person … so sad. That’s me telling the truth,” another user wrote.
Other commenters said they will stop shopping at Lorna Jane because of the Facebook post.
“Whoever is right or wrong #tellthetruth is bullying in itself! I won’t be shopping at Lorna Jane anymore regardless of it she is lying or not because of this! Really terrible and poor form!” one person said.
“How about #stayprofessional Lorna Jane, this is a massive fail not to mention totally unnecessary,” wrote another.
Lorna Jane removed the post earlier this morning, saying the #TellTheTruth hashtag “was aimed at the media to tell the truth and facts about the case, not an individual”.
“We are confident that the truth and facts will prevail in due course. Thank you everyone for your overwhelming support,” the company said.
Lorna Jane public relations manager Belinda Zordan reiterated that the hashtag was not directed at Robinson personally, telling SmartCompany this morning it was “aimed to encourage truth from all parties in these claims”.
“Lorna Jane remains unapologetic for encouraging people to be honest and remain confident that the truth will prevail,” Zordan says.
“The hashtag (#tellthetruth) uploaded by Lorna Jane via Facebook last night is reiterating that the allegations made by Amy Robinson are entirely untrue.”
Communications and social media expert Catriona Pollard told SmartCompany this morning that while she believes releasing a company statement about the allegations on social media was “important to do” but attempting to create a hashtag was inappropriate.
Pollard says hashtags are generally used by brands to make content trend or go viral but if that occurs, “the company can no longer control it, they are handing it over to social media”.
“What they are asking their followers to do is react in a way that becomes viral,” she says.
Pollard says Lorna Janes is renown for its positive social media presence and brands that enjoy a large and highly engaged social media following can “get too comfortable and think their fans will never turn on them”.
“This post had a negative tone to it and it has not gone down well,” she says.
“If even one more person says they have been bullied and uses that hashtag, it opens a can of worms.”
Pollard says any brand that uses hashtags on social media must consider the different interpretations of the words it picks.
“There are always two sides to a story,” she says.
“[Lorna Jane’s] truth may be the statement but obviously there is another person’s perspective here.”
SmartCompany contacted Shine Lawyers but did not receive a response prior to publication.