LONDON - Guess co-founder Paul Marciano is stepping down as executive chairman after his company was forced to pay more than $500,000 to five people who accused him of sexual harassment.
Model and actress Kate Upton publicly accused Marciano in February, of forcibly grabbing her breasts during a Guess photo shoot nearly eight years ago.
The 25-year-old also said the fashion designer harassed her by showing up at the hotels she was staying at and texting her inappropriate comments.
Marciano agreed to temporarily step aside while Guess launched a sexual misconduct probe. But that investigation turned up more claims of sexual misconduct claims.
Guess' Special Committee said it interviewed more than 40 people and combed through more than a million pages of documents and emails, finding that Marciano exercised 'poor judgment' in how he dealt with models and photographers. They said he also put himself in situations where it was 'plausible' he'd be accused of misconduct.
The clothing and purse line has since paid out half a million dollars to Marciano's accusers and have announced that Marciano has permanently stepped down as executive chairman, TMZ reports.
The sexual harassment allegations first came to light in February when Upton gave an interview to Time magazine alleging that Marciano had started harassing her when she was 18 on the set of her first professional modeling campaign in 2010.
'As soon as I walked in with photographer Yu Tsai, Paul came straight up to me, forcibly grabbed my breasts and started feeling them - playing with them actually. After I pushed him away, he said, 'I'm making sure they're real',' Upton said.
'Despite doing everything I could physically do to avoid his touch throughout the meeting, he continued to touch me in a very dominating and aggressive way, grabbing my thighs, my arms to pull me closer, my shoulders to pull me closer, my neck, my breasts, and smelling me.'
Upton claims Marciano had asked the photographer to leave, but the model quickly sent Tsai a text message urging him not to go - but that allegedly didn't stop the designer's advances.
'At one point he forcibly grabbed the back of my head so that I could not move and started kissing my face and my neck.
'I remember not wanting to say 'Get off of me' because I didn't want to open my mouth to say anything because I didn't want him to be able to put his tongue in my mouth,' she said.
'I had two options: do everything I could to wiggle away and avoid his pursuit, or punch the CEO of Guess. So I decided to just wiggle away.'
Soon after the allegations surfaced, Guess announced it had formed a special committee comprised of two independent directors to investigate the allegations of improper conduct by the fashion mogul.
Marciano has described the allegations as 'absolutely false' and 'preposterous.'
'I have never been alone with Kate Upton,' he said. 'I have never touched her inappropriately. Nor would I ever refer to a Guess model in such a derogatory manner.
'I fully support the #metoo movement. At the same time, I will not allow others to defame me and tarnish my reputation.
'I have pledged to Guess and its Board of Directors my full support and cooperation with a fair and impartial investigation.'
Photographer Yu Tsai confirmed to TIME that he witnessed the alleged harassment.
Upton went on to claim that Marciano had asked to walk her back to her hotel room following the shoot but she immediately declined.
'The only thing I was thinking is if he touches me like that in public, I can't imagine what he'd try to do in private,' Upton said.
She claims Marciano called repeatedly asking to visit her at the hotel and said that he was already down in the lobby.
Upton said the following day she was told she had been fired from the shoot.
'Someone had called my agency to say I had gotten fat and would not be needed on set,' she said.
'I was devastated, especially because at this point no one from Guess had even seen me.'
Guess insists that Upton was fired because she refused to wear their underwear or swimwear for the shoot.
Upton, who worked on several Guess campaigns after the initial encounter, went on to say that Yu Tsai essentially became her protector and ensured she was never alone with Marciano.
But she claims Yu Tsai was eventually fired as well in what she describes as retaliation for helping her.
Upton claims on her final Guess shoot in 2011 that Marciano was outwardly rude and degrading the entire time.
'He said I was 'disgusting' and started telling people how unprofessional I was by spreading rumors that I was drunk on set and partying every night, which of course I wasn't,' she said.
'I was then told to leave because Paul had said: 'Get that fat pig off my set'.'
When Guess asked her to do the 2012 campaign and offered her $400,000 - the highest paying offer at the time - Upton said she turned it down to avoid interacting with Marciano.
'It took a huge toll on my confidence and self-worth. I wanted to quit modeling. I constantly blamed myself after it happened,' Upton said.
'I wondered if it was how I was presenting myself or what I was wearing. I started slumping my shoulders to hide my breast size, wearing baggy clothes, started despising my own body.'
Upton, who went on to become extremely successful because of her Sports Illustrated cover, said she got through the ordeal with support of family and friends.
'I'm sick of being silenced and expected to sweep everything under the rug,' she said.
'I'm sick of being expected to laugh off these aggressive advances and accept the power imbalances that exist.
'I'm sick of being expected to endure all of this while being polite and professional through it all.
'Paul used his power to make me feel insecure and powerless, but I'm not going to let him intimidate me anymore.
'These men think they are untouchable, but times are changing.'