His Reputation Precedes Him: Dov Charney’s Blacklist
In a series of lawsuits predating his ousting today, male and female employees at American Apparel have accused Dov Charney, its now former president and CEO of sexual harassment, even imprisonment.
American Apparel’s board of directors has acted. After continuously backing the brand’s president and CEO, Dov Charney, through multiple sexual harassment, labor and abuse lawsuits over the past decade, a unanimous vote was reached on Wednesday to oust the brand’s 45-year-old founder. Charney has a 30-day grace period before he is officially terminated.
During the transitional phase, board members Allan Mayer and David Danziger will reign as co-chairmen of the board. “We take no joy in this, but the Board felt it was the right thing to do,” Mayer stated “Dov Charney created American Apparel, but the company has grown much larger than any one individual and we are confident that its greatest days are still ahead.” Stating the decision “was not the result of any problems with the company’s operations,” the vote was cast after an investigation was launched earlier this year when “new information came to light.”
A close source revealed to the LA Times that “Charney’s alleged problems did not appear to be criminal in nature but involved his personal conduct with women and poor judgment.”
Founded in 1991, the brand has constantly pushed the boundaries of the visibility of sexuality with their provocative clothing, advertisements store-front windows, and—most notably—Charney’s sexually charged presence both in and out of the office.
Below, catch up on the various accusations that have plagued Charney’s past, all of which have been dismissed or settled outside of court.
In a profile of the former CEO for Jane magazine, reporter Claudine Ko recounted the multiple times Charney openly masturbated and engaged in sexual acts during their interviews. “Soon enough, he loosened his Pierre Cardin belt,” she writes. “’Are you going to do it again?’ … And thus begins another compulsive episode of what Dov likes to call self pleasure, during which we casually carry on our interview, discussing things like business, models, hiring practices and the stupidity of focus groups.”
In May of 2005, three former employees filed sexual harassment suits against Charney accusing the founder of exposing himself to them and conducting business meetings partly-clothed in his home in Los Angeles. While one claimed that he “invited her to masturbate,” another recounts Charney asking her to “hire young women with whom he could have sex, Asians preferred.”
“In my opinion their lawsuits are a false attempt to extort money from my company and exploit my transparent persona,” Charney told the New York Times. While Charney continued to deny all accounts (except for appearing in front of both male and female employees in his underwear), two of the cases were combined and settled outside of court.
The third case, filed by Mary Nelson, claimed that Charney created “a hostile work environment” for his use of sexually explicit language and behavior—including his lack of proper clothing in the workplace. Allegedly, Charney attempted to settle with Nelson in private, but have the former employee publicly claim that chargers were dismissed in a fake hearing.
It is unclear whether or not the case saw an actual courtroom or if the two parties stuck to the original arbitration settlement of $1.3 million.
As a result, the company added a clause to their employee contracts noting that “employees working in the design, sales, marketing and other creative areas of the company will come into contact with sexually charged language and visual images. This is part of the job for employees working in these areas.”
In June, former employee Jeneleen Floyd, who had worked in the brand’s product placement department for three years, filled a suit that claimed in March of 2004 Charney ordered her to “pretend to masturbate.” When she refused, he then demanded a male employee follow suit before simulating “an oral sex act with him.”
Irene Morales sued Charney for $250 million in punitive damages after claiming the former CEO held her “prisoner”—at the age of 17—in his home and forced her to perform sexual acts on him. While appearing on the Today Show, Morales stated, “I thought it was almost normal. I thought everyone in the retail or fashion industry had to go through something similar to that. But I didn’t think anything else of it.”
The suit was tossed out of a Brooklyn courthouse because it was already ordered to arbitration by a California court. The company has attempted to safeguard themselves from public scandal by including an “agreement to binding arbitration” clause in their contracts, which binds employees to a confidential settlement outside of court.
Four more models followed suit. Kimbra Lo, Alyssa Ferguson, Marissa Wilson and Tesa Lubans-Dehaven soon filed lawsuits against Charney, while Lo was the only one who went public at the time. Then 19-years-old, Lo claimed she visited Charney’s home the previous December—seven months after she quit her job as a sales associate for the brand—to talk about being rehired as a model and photographer. When she arrived, she claimed that Charney was “wrapped in a towel.” He then “undressed her and tried to have sex,” she said.
The company claimed that the former employees were conspiring to “shake down” the company and its founder, who reportedly had an estimated net worth of $20 million at the time.
The harassment doesn’t just include women. A former store manager at a Malibu, California outpost filed a lawsuit in December of 2012. Michael Bumblis accused the founder of attempting to “strangle him” while forcibly “rubbing dirt in his face” and calling him a “wannabe Jew” and “faggot” on multiple occasions. The company held strong that Bumblis’ termination followed its current policy.
Where unstated, The Daily Beast reached out to American Apparel for clarification on how a number of the cases were resolved, but a spokesman declined to comment.