American Apparel founder Dov Charney sued for sexually abusing teen employee

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesAmerican Apparel has a very definable reputation in pop culture. They sell plain t-shirts in a rainbow of colors for $18. They outfit hipsters with often absurd spandex and lamé garments. They have rated-R ad campaigns featuring young men and women in various stages of nudity, sometimes in compromising positions. And last but not least, their 42-year-old founder, Dov Charney, has a long history of being called out by reporters and former employees for sexual harassment in the work place.

Today, the New York Post is reported on a new case where Charney "turned a teenage employee into his sex slave" back in 2007 by threatening her job status if she didn't send him nude pictures and texts, explain her sexual history in explicit detail, and have sex with him on her 18th birthday and repeatedly thereafter. According the suit, Irene Morales, now 20, went to Dov's apartment on her 18th birthday and he forced her to her knees to perform a sex act. "Then he dragged her to the bedroom, threw her on the bed, got on top of her and forced her to perform another act of fellatio, nearly suffocating her in the process. "After months of apparent sexual misconduct, Morales had an "emotional breakdown" according to the Post and checked into a hospital. For some reason though, she returned to her job at American Apparel afterward and was then "subjected to extreme psychological abuse and torment" until she finally quit. American Apparel says Morales "resigned with a letter of gratitude regarding her positive experience at the company." She is now seeking a whopping $250,000,000 in damages.

American ApparelAmerican ApparelCharney has a long history of lawsuits and accusations of pervy behavior that dates back to 2004, when a Jane magazine writer interviewed him and he masturbated in front of her. Later, a videotape of Charney walking around the work place in only his underwear was posted on the company website. In a 2006 sexual harassment lawsuit, he gave a deposition under oath saying, "I frequently drop my pants to show people my new product." Charney has been open about relationships with various young employees, and numerous former American Apparel workers have come forward with allegations about his sexual misconduct. Anonymous tipsters have also claimed discrimination at the workplace, including Charney's threats of firing retail employees who he deemed not attractive enough or dressing sexy enough.

If these latest allegations against Charney are true, they are horrendous and inexcusable. But one can't help but wonder why Irene Morales returned to work for an employer who allegedly harassed and assaulted her-and potentially raped her-for months. The job market is tough, she was a high school student in need of money, perhaps she was naive and didn't know any better?

One of the few American Apparel ads appropriate enough to post on Shine.One of the few American Apparel ads appropriate enough to post on Shine.We spoke with one former American Apparel employee who doesn't believe these allegations. "So many girls sleep with him [Charney] because they want to," said the anonymous female staffer who was recently employed at American Apparel for more than five years. "Everyone knows what he's like-I feel like if you don't, you don't really follow American Apparel." The former worker cannot reveal her name because she, like all employees including Morales, signed a confidentiality agreement. She knows many employees who have slept with Charney, "and no one ever complained, at least not to me." In the time she was employed by Charney she says, "I never saw him disrespect anyone sexually and he never sexually harassed me." Our source says that while Charney has been known to prey on young girls, she feels most allegations and events are blown out of proportion. Also, according to our source, Charney actually has groupies! "He's upfront with what he wants. Girls know what he wants, and either you want it too or you don't," she says. "Yes, they are young, maybe they don't realize what they're getting themselves into. I don't agree with his methods of getting his girls, but it's out in the open. These girls want his money-it's just sad when you look at the whole picture. Dov needs to understand that there will always be a reaction to his actions as long as he has relations with girls this young. I'm not condoning his behavior, but I do not think he's a rapist."

As for Charney's practices, he's managed to find some convenient loopholes. "I've heard about [Charney requesting] naked pictures before, but he could also have them sign model releases," says our source. We asked the former employee what the draw was of posing for or hooking up with the company founder. "They want the attention to be 'one of his girls,' and then when they realize they're not the only one, they get upset." Perhaps angry enough to file a lawsuit.

While our source was never a target or witness to what she felt was sexually inappropriate behavior, she too grew tired of Charney's antics, saying those allegations about dress code were completely true. You had to be dressed head-to-toe in American Apparel's clothing, but that's not all. "When you had to be 'cute' to his standards, not job experience, that's when I left. It goes against everything I believe in."

While it's hard to know what really went on in Charney's previous sexual harassment cases, thus far, they've all been dismissed by the courts. And-regardless of the former employees claims otherwise-we still feel Charney is a totally sleazy guy and think the way he runs his business is highly suspect. Would we want to work for American Apparel? Hell no, and we're hoping all the current and future female American Apparel employees know what they're potentially getting into, and speak up immediately if they see anything inappropriate going on. We're also reconsidering where we buy our t-shirts.

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Flirting At Work: When Is It Sexual Harassment?