Chief of toy firm Steiff 'raped executive in car'

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A marketing chief is suing German toy maker Steiff for £50m, accusing the company's chief executive of raping her in a car during a campaign of unwelcome advances that she said went on for years.

Jane Collins' lawsuit said the prestigious company, known for its teddy bears and other stuffed animals, did nothing to stop Martin Frechen's "extreme and outrageous conduct", despite her repeated complaints.

Through lawyers, Mr Frechen and the company denied her accusations.

The lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, where the lawsuit said Mr Frechen sexually harassed 32-year-old single mother Ms Collins during trade shows this winter and in 2007.

The rape, according to the lawsuit, happened in 2004 near the German company's North American headquarters in Raynham, Massachusetts.

A week after allegedly fondling her at a corporate event, the complaint says Mr Frechen - who was moving back to Germany - asked Ms Collins to accompany him to a storage unit where he planned to keep his wife's car.

He then closed the storage locker's door and sexually assaulted her in the front passenger seat, the lawsuit said.

Ms Collins never contacted police out of fear for her job, according to her lawyer, Christopher Brennan.

She remains assistant marketing manager at Steiff's North American arm, where she started working in 2000. Its global parent, Margarete Steiff GmbH, is based in Giengen an der Brenz, Germany.

Mr Frechen "intends to vigorously defend himself against these claims and believes he ultimately will prevail", said his lawyer, Michael Rosen.

A lawyer for Steiff, David Rosenthal, said the company was "committed to providing a safe and comfortable working environment for all of its employees" and would contest Ms Collins' claims.

Ms Collins recorded her alleged encounters with Mr Frechen in her diary. She appealed to Steiff's North American chief for help in dealing with Mr Frechen, but the US executive never reported or investigated her complaints, her lawsuit said.

"They were confronted with numerous reports of sexual harassment and did nothing," Mr Brennan said.

Steiff's stuffed-animal kingdom dates to 1880, and some of its products are prized by collectors.