American Apparel's porntastic ads were just the icing on Dov Charney's sleaze cake

Goodbye and good riddance to the former CEO

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Dov Charney, the founder, president and CEO of American Apparel, found himself without a job this week. I think it’s safe to assume that the prevailing sense among American Apparel staff and management will be one of pure, unadulterated relief.

Charney created American Apparel, the best place to buy shiny leggings and see-through leotards with double-take price tags, in 1998. The company has been mired in controversy ever since.

The now-defunct magazine Jane ran a profile of Charney in 2005. Claudine Ko described how he masturbated in front of her during the interview, and called afterwards to explain that he needed to get ‘his release’ before he could properly speak to her.

By 2006, Charney had been sued by three separate employees for sexual harassment; one woman claimed that Charney had a quirky taste for holding meetings wearing only a ‘cock sock’. 2008 saw another sexual harassment lawsuit, this time from an ex-employee who accused Charney of forcing her to simulate masturbation, and ordering a male member of staff to pretend to masturbate in front of her. Charney was also accused of showering an employee with homophobic and anti-Semitic insults, grabbing his throat and rubbing his face in the dirt.

Charney’s appetite for personally judging the photographs of prospective staff members is just the icing on the hideous harassment-mixed-with-discrimination cake here. (Don’t ask me what that cake looks like, it isn’t appetising.) He reportedly created rules for the personal grooming of employees, particularly women employees, and encouraged the firing of anyone who didn’t fit in with the “American Apparel aesthetic”. A former store manager told Gawker that they were told to only hire the “right kind” of black women.

In 2010, Charney received a $1.1m bonus, despite the plummeting stock price of American Apparel and the firing of 1,800 workers. One of the reasons that Charney was forced to step down was the lagging profits under his leadership, but since American Apparel’s board have terminated his contract following allegations of misconduct, it would hardly be surprising if his record of employee complaints was the deciding factor. Either way, shares in American Apparel jumped as much as 20 per cent in New York trading after the news of his departure was made public.

Perhaps with Charney gone, American Apparel will have no need for their “At Will Confidentiality Agreement” which stipulates that any worker who contacts the media or disparages Charney in public or online will be liable to pay a penalty of $1m. The agreement also demands that AA employees should not discuss the company at a volume that “reasonably could be overheard by a third party”. Without the looming presence of Charney, they may be able to raise their voices above a whisper.

Whatever you think of American Apparel’s porntastic advertisements and its overpriced jersey basics, the firing of Dov Charney hails a new era for the company and gives his alleged victims at least some justice. The good news is that Charney is history. The bad news is that it took so long to happen.

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