American Apparel Founder Dov Charney Faces $250 Million Sexual Assault Lawsuit

dov-charney1Sexual voyeur? Eccentric entrepreneur? Predator? Criminal? While the adjectives might seem difficult to swallow, many of those terms are being used to describe American Apparel founder Dov Charney. According to papers filed earlier today, Mr. Charney has been slapped with a $250 million civil lawsuit for allegedly turning a teenage employee into his sex slave. According to the lawsuit, Mr Charney demanded the woman come to his New York City apartment the day she turned 18, answered the door in his underwear, dragged her inside and forced her to her knees so she could pleasure him. He is then accused of "holding her prisoner" in the apartment for several hours during which time he forced her to perform additional sexual acts, according to the lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court. According to court documents, Mr Charney allegedly began harassing the woman in August 2007 when she was 17, telling her that she would be fired if she did not detail her sexual history, engage in "increasingly explicit" sexual functions and send him sexually explicit pictures. Court documents reveal that the pressure of Mr Charney’s demands caused her to become "increasingly nervous and depressed", forcing a hospital stay after an "emotional breakdown", the suit alleged. He forced her to work longer hours and perform personal tasks without extra pay leading up to the alleged attack on the day she turned 18. Afterward, he continued to demand sexual service and communications in exchange for her continued employment at American Apparel, the suit said.

dov-charney-20060428npr1While a lawyer for Mr Charney did not immediately respond to media requests, it is important to recognize that this is not the first time that the eccentric millionaire has been accused of sexually questionable human resource practices. In 2005 for example, Charney was targeted by two female employees in sexual harassment suits who accused Charney of exposing himself to them. One claims he invited her to masturbate with him and that he ran business meetings at his Los Angeles home wearing close to nothing. Another says he asked her to hire young women with whom he could have sex, Asians preferred. All describe him using foul language in their presence, much of it demeaning to women. According to one of the accusers attorneys, "the work environment at American Apparel makes Animal House look like choir practice." These lawsuits followed even more bizarre behavior reported earlier that year following Mr. Charney's interview for the women's magazine Jane. According to reports, Charney was described as engaging in oral sex with a female employee and masturbating in front of the reporter. While the behavior was deemed shocking, what was even more surprising was the fact that Mr. Charney did not deny taking part in any of the activities described. According to the American Apparel leader, Charney says that he befriended the writer over the course of the two months it took her to research the piece. When questioned, he reminded inquirers that he has "never done anything sexual that wasn't consensual." The reporter, Claudine Ko, confirmed his take on events to BusinessWeek.

While sexual lawsuits seem to be synonymous with the American Apparel brand and its leaders, Charney and American Apparel have also faced numerous recent controversies, the least of which revolves around the company's inability to generate sustained revenue. Moreover, late last year, government investigators found that 1,800 of American Apparel's employees are either illegally working in the U.S. or potentially illegal workers. Those employees comprised about one-third of the clothier's Los Angeles manufacturing operation. The disclosure came as a result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of the 1,800 workers identified, 1,600 were deemed to be unauthorized to work in the United States. Immigration was unable to verify the status of the remaining 200.

Nathaniel Payne is a researcher and teaching assistant from Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business. He is also an instructor in the School of Business at The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

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