Former LA Models CFO Files Harassment Complaint

Gaurav Pahwa, a former LA Models executive, has filed a harassment lawsuit in the Superior court of California against his former employer.

Heinz Holba, the founder and owner of LA Models, and Karine Roman, vice president of LA Models, are also named in the complaint that is calling for a trial by jury. Holba is not commenting at this time, according to a representative for him at LA Models.

Roman also declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.

Holba also owns LA Talent and NY Models, and Roman also has the vice president title at both of those sister agencies. Pahwa made numerous allegations including that Holba engaged in sexual misconduct, there was a hostile work environment at LA Models and that Pahwa had faced “wrongful constructive termination” and suffered economic damages.

Pahwa is seeking damages in the range of $8 million to $10 million, according to Arnold Peter, an attorney at the Peter Law Group. “This is one of the most outrageous claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment that I’ve ever seen,” Peter said.

Pahwa is bringing the suit also “on behalf of all of the other employees that have been [allegedly] harmed by this hostile work environment,” Peter added. However, Pahwa is the only plaintiff in the lawsuit and is seeking damages solely on his own behalf.

Among other claims, Pahwa alleged that there was a hostile work environment and intolerable working conditions that he claimed were created by Roman. The defendant referred to Roman’s alleged repeated use of derogatory and degrading language and discriminatory comments. The suit alleged that behavior was based on sexual orientation and age.

Pahwa, a California resident, was previously the chief financial officer and chief operating officer at LA Models. In April, he joined a rival company, Wilhelmina, as CFO. In addition to his run at LA Models, he consulted for Slash during part of that time.

Pahwa was first hired by the company in October 2011 as controller, and he took on the CFO and COO titles in February 2023. His employment agreement at that time allowed for a severance payment upon termination without cause that would be based on two months of his then-current base salary for each year of service since October 2011 including partial years up to a maximum of 36 months.

The complaint alleges that Holba and Roman’s personal relationship “adversely impacted the workplace.” Once married, the couple remained co-parents and coworkers with Roman reporting directly to Holba. The suit claims that despite “repeated cautionary advice” from legal advisers and high-ranking executives within the company, their “tumultuous relationship introduced conflicts of interest and personal grievances into personal matters.” Corey Bautista, who is now a senior agent at Wilhelmina, and Valerie Tullio, who is now a talent manager at Muse Model, were among the departures. Bautista did not respond immediately to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon and Tullio could not be reached.

The pair allegedly frequently argued about child support payments for their daughter, who is described in the complaint as disabled, and “continiuosly involved” Pahwa in their conversations.  Roman was said to have tried to hide her actual income from her other child’s father, who is not named in suit, to continue receiving child support payments.

Pahwa’s filing references Wilhelmina Models’ ties to Gigi Hadid, Coco Rocha and Robyn Lawley among others. It claims that from 2021 through 2024, eight new hires at LA Models were under the age of 40 and “a notable number of veteran agents” parted ways with the agency and allegedly cited struggles with Roman’s management style as the primary reason for their departures.

The suit cites seven causes of action including failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, failure to furnish accurate itemized wage statements and unfair business practices.

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