On November 21, 2023, a former client of globally recognized modeling agent Thomas Zeumer filed a lawsuit against the industry titan claiming he sexually assaulted her after luring her to a dinner meeting ostensibly to discuss her modeling career.
The plaintiff, identified in the complaint as Jane Doe to protect her anonymity, says the 1991 assault caused her tremendous psychological damage, which continues to affect her emotional and mental health, and fundamentally changed the trajectory of her career.
Filed on behalf of Jane Doe by Elizabeth Fegan, managing member of FeganScott and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, and Christine Adams, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Adams, Duerk & Kamenstein LLP, under New York’s Adult Survivors Act (ASA), the lawsuit details claims previously time-barred by statutes of limitations.
“New York passed the ASA for my client’s exact circumstances,” Fegan said. “She was a young and aspiring model who placed her trust in a leading agent because he promised to mentor her and guide her career to success. Instead, Zeumer used his position of power to sexually assault her while she was incapacitated and incapable of giving consent. While she was essentially powerless to take action against him then, the ASA has provided her a window to seek justice.”
Fegan added that when the alleged assault happened, the environment to hold abusers accountable was dramatically different than it is today.
“This was the era of rampant victim-blaming, fueled by a legal system that made it very difficult for women, often economically disadvantaged, to hold abusers accountable,” Fegan said. “That is why the ASA is so important. It gives survivors who are now ready a chance to seek justice.”
The lawsuit alleges Zeumer forced Jane Doe to engage in nonconsensual sex following a dinner meeting in New York City. The suit details the dinner meeting, during which Jane Doe became incapacitated, leading Zeumer to walk her to an apartment where she recalls waking up with Zeumer on top of her, forcibly penetrating her.
Zeumer is described as “a New York-based modeling agent, media entrepreneur, and creative visionary… known for skyrocketing careers of top models like Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer, and Eva Herzigova” on his current website.
According to the complaint, the morning after the assault, Zeumer told Jane Doe she needed to travel to Europe for work. Still processing the pain and shock from the assault, and concerned it may happen again in Europe, Jane Doe declined, cutting ties with Zeumer, effectively ending her modeling career in the process.
“We intend to prove that Zeumer’s intention that night was to manipulate a then-23-year-old woman into a position where he could coerce her into having sex,” Adams said. “The law then – and the law today – is clear: she could not have granted consent for sex while incapacitated.”
“As we saw in prosecuting the Harvey Weinstein cases, it appears that Zeumer used the well-worn ‘let’s meet to talk about your future’ approach, which is just as repugnant here as it was with Weinstein,” Fegan added. “We hope that unlike the Weinstein case, our victim wasn’t one of many, all suffering silently until the first spoke up.”