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Workers Tell of Harassment at Spin Magazine

March 21, 1997|THOMAS S. MULLIGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Spin magazine Publisher Bob Guccione Jr. hired and promoted young women based on their personal relationships with him and presided over an office where women were fondled and subjected to locker room-style comments by male editors, according to testimony in federal trial here.

In the trial, now in its second week in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Staci Bonner, a former research editor and writer at the popular rock 'n' roll magazine, accuses Guccione and Spin of harassment, discrimination and effectively forcing her out of her job through a work atmosphere that was "toxic" for women.

Spin and Guccione, 41, son of Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione Sr., deny the charges. Bonner's attorneys are expected to wrap up their case early next week, after which the defense will present its witnesses.

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Guccione founded Spin magazine in 1985 with a $2 million investment from his father. He later bought out his father's interest by bringing in other investors and built Spin into a publication regarded by some critics as the nation's hippest youth culture magazine, challenging Rolling Stone. Last year, the magazine took in $27.6 million in advertising revenues, a 27% increase from the year before.

Bonner has testified that she was given unwanted back rubs by former Executive Editor Michael Pakenham, received unwanted advances--including at least one crude proposition--from other male editors and saw less-qualified workers promoted ahead of her because of their romantic relationships with Guccione.

Perhaps the most vivid account of life at Spin came from its former managing editor, Mark Woodruff, who is now a senior editor at rival Rolling Stone. Woodruff testified Thursday that Pakenham was drunk on the job "pretty much daily" and generated numerous complaints from women that he was "saying inappropriate things, stumbling into them, touching them." One woman received a note from Pakenham dubbing her "executive sex kitten," Woodruff said.

Woodruff said he notified Valerie Green, the magazine's general manager, who forwarded the complaints to Guccione. But according to Woodruff, Green returned to say that Guccione had gotten angry at her and said he didn't believe her.

Guccione's own reputation for flirting with and dating young female employees was so well known that Woodruff, trying to head off problems, said he told the person responsible for hiring interns that "if he had good, qualified candidates who weren't attractive blond women, hire them."

In earlier testimony, Guccione was even said to have made unwelcome advances to Jill Swid, the daughter of Spin's majority owner, Stephen Swid. Jill Swid still works at the magazine.

Guccione, clad Thursday in a black suit and conservative print tie, wears his hair in a longish, mod style and resembles a slightly taller version of actor Dudley Moore, the more so because he speaks with what appears to be a British accent.

In an exchange with Bonner's lawyer Hillary Richard on Thursday, Guccione testified that when he once told Swid that older men could satisfy her more, he had not been referring to himself.

"Were you referring to yourself when you drew your initials on her arm inside of a heart?" Richard asked.

"Yes," Guccione said.

Jay Stowe, former associate editor at Spin, testified Thursday that Guccione asked him several times to assign work to freelance writer Julia Chaplin, an ex-girlfriend of Guccione's. Stowe had resisted using Chaplin because he wasn't impressed with her writing, but he said he began giving her more work after receiving a memo from Guccione repeating his request and saying: "I told you this a couple of times and I don't want to have to again."

Chaplin, in her own testimony Thursday, said she began a romantic relationship with the publisher a few weeks after he hired her in 1992 as a 22-year-old intern fresh out of Mills College in Oakland. The relationship ended after about a year, but Guccione later hired Chaplin as music news editor, a position she still holds.

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