Silencing Sexual Harassment: American Apparel’s Same Antics with a New Twist

By Kirsten Meeder, Field Intern

American Apparel’s CEO and President, Dov Charney, has been accused of sexual harassment. Again. The most recent case involves Irene Morales, 20, who recently explained on the Today Show that Charney forced her to perform various sexual acts during a period of eight months while she was employed with American Apparel. Morales stated that she was afraid to bring attention to her treatment because of her own shame of what had been done to her and the danger of losing her job.

Charney, who is no stranger to allegations of sexual harassment, has been implicated in the past by at least four of his former female employees, who among other things accused him of using sexually explicit language in the workplace and exposing himself to them. Charney vehemently maintains his innocence and has settled the cases out of public court. He also defends his self-termed “free love” lifestyle by claiming that he was targeted by these women because of his wealth and unconventionality.

These explanations, however, are coming from the same man who not only openly admits to referring to women as “sluts” and “c*nts,” but who also infamously seeks extensive sexual liaisons with his staff, walks around the office in his underwear, and who, in 2004, had oral sex in front of Jane magazine reporter Claudine Ko during an interview.

Even more alarming is the fact that Charney’s offensive and downright sexist sexual politics are not only limited to his interactions with employees, but also extend to American Apparel’s advertisements. These advertisements, which are done exclusively in house and often directed and shot by Charney himself, feature women’s bodies in naked chunks in various explicit acts.

As a result of the many sexual harassment cases that have been brought against Charney, American Apparel now demands that all employees sign a mandatory arbitration agreement. This has serious consequences for Morales, who in fact signed such an agreement before Charney allegedly sexually harassed her. Morales’ case against Charney could be considerably threatened by the arbitration process, as cases that go into arbitration not only limit individuals’ rights and resources, but make it easier for large companies, like American Apparel, to emerge from the case with minimum media coverage and a decision crafted in their favor.

It appears that American Apparel is up to its usual misogynistic antics, but has also reached a new low. Instead of changing its company’s image and respecting women, American Apparel has decided to preemptively cover its own skin with legal agreements that employees are mandated to sign. It is time to ask how many appalling cases of sexual harassment will have to surface against Charney until the company realizes that the abuse and degradation of women can never be a commonplace policy of any business, let alone one that claims to be as politically correct and liberal as American Apparel.

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