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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Comment from: jonhartz [Member] Email
We must all thank Bill Maher from freeing us from the shackles of names: we should all be proud to be called DUMB TWATS!! Or does that only apply to women with whom we disagree politically? Are we hypocrites or liars? Or really just only DUMB TWATS? I hear the crickets, not the outrage....

03/23/11 @ 13:38
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Comment from: cabaret voltaire [Visitor]
If in fact her allegations are true, please remember men like Dov Charney are the exception, not the rule.

I find working with women a bit more stressful than working with men. Not because I expect to harass women, but because in the age of political correctness a man must walk on egg shells when speaking to a woman. I just don't know what will offend her. With men, you can say whatever you want without repercussion. My experience also suggests women say things at work that would get a man fired if he made a similar comment.

03/23/11 @ 19:49
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Comment from: amybcs [Visitor]
"Charney forced her to perform various sexual acts during a period of eight months." Without question, Charney is a pig, but absent a gun to her head, Ms. Morales needs to take responsibility for her own behavior.

Charney is not liable ("innocent") until proven to be so. Ms. Morales has $250,000,000 reasons to say that any alleged relationship was not consensual because she was feared losing her job.

Let us not forget how NOW had to apologize to the Duke Lacrosse team when the truth came out that the allegations against them were nothing but an attempt at extortion. Do you remember that sincere apology? Yeah, me neither.
03/24/11 @ 16:48
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Comment from: Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director [Member] Email
@amybcs: Wait, did you just intimate that a woman can't be sexually assaulted unless she has a gun to her head? Real nice.

Also, I do not recall NOW ever saying anything about the Duke Lacrosse players. We did run one article about how the media were covering the case, but I am pretty confident that we never said a word about the merits of the case itself -- thus, I am not sure what you would have wanted us to apologize for.
03/24/11 @ 17:58
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Comment from: amybcs [Visitor]
No, I did not intimate that a woman cannot be sexually assaulted without a gun to her head, just that a some point, perhaps after eight months, she needs to take some responsibility for herself and her behavior.
NOW always wants it both ways -- women are strong and capable of anything, yet so easily vicitmized by those evil men.

I also find it interesting that Ms. Meeder's article fails to point out that Ms. Morales is bringing a $250,000,000 lawsuit against American Apparel. That little fact is important in judging the credibility on both sides.

As for the Duke case, as in this case, NOW is automatically assuming the guilt of the accused, as has time and again proved dangerous.
03/24/11 @ 18:16
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Comment from: liberated58 [Member] Email
Yes, It is hard when you see people turn their backs on women who think different. Women stood strong through prohibition and suffrage movement but because they were women of faith their is less focus on their greatness. If we are advocates for women then lets be advocates for women.. Not pick and choose what women are worthy of support!! Sad
03/27/11 @ 20:15
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Comment from: liberated58 [Member] Email
As a Upper Manager who has had to wade through these issues in the past, The problem with these work place incidents where the was a sexual liaison for months, is there have been so many times of exploitation of workplace harassment policies, that we fall into the proverbial ........Boy who cried wolf syndrome. Me included!!
My mind can jump to wonder why 8 months. Who is too say she didnt use her own sexuality to get around, and paly on This mans weaknesses there by exploiting too, and then cry harassment when the benefits didn't pay off any more! I am being honest with where my biases can go and this is sad, but it is do to seeing race card played way too many times when it wasn't wanted, and sexism card too. please do not quote me as accusing Irene Morales of selfish motives, i am just being honest with where my mind can drift... And the motives are not so easily assessed by outer events. Motives are very deceiving even our own! So we can not just discount motives. HElp me here ladies! Or sensitive men. it doesnt make me less Pro Woman to say some can exploit work place sexual harrassment today. I have sene lesbians co workers and friends get away with more in the work place then any man would ever be able too.! I mean out right rubbing, sexual talk and such and bringing other women home, but no one would dare speak on this.. Ladies. lets be objective. if we plan on marching forward in this new era
03/27/11 @ 20:34
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Comment from: Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director [Member] Email
There are several reasons people's minds go in the direction liberated58 describes. One is that our patriarchal society kindly points us in this direction. We are constantly told that women are manipulative, teasing, liars, crazy, sluts, etc. Discrediting women, and getting the general public to do so automatically, is a major tactic in the effort to allow men to continue exploiting and discriminating against women.

What I do find amazing is how many times I have heard the claim that women get away with behavior in the workplace that men never could. Honestly, what is the phenomenon that makes people believe this? I have witnessed outrageous behavior by men in the workplace. A woman transferred because the male superior was done with his affair with her. Upon his retirement, a boss was presented with a framed mocked-up newspaper front page that made a joke of sexual harassment accusations against him. Heck, I was called "sweetheart" at an interview for a promotion that I did not get. I could go on and on. I do not believe for a second that women get away with more than men do.
03/28/11 @ 10:33
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Comment from: letsbefair [Member] Email
You had me until: "Heck, I was called "sweetheart" at an interview for a promotion that I did not get."

Okay, yes, deeply rooted social prejudice etc. etc. But would you prefer him call you sir? It's not necessarily a subordinating term, unless you decide it is. Quoth Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

As far as this: "I do not believe for a second that women get away with more than men do," I'd say I fundamentally agree with you. Women don't get away with more, nor do they get away with less. They get away with things that are different, based the assumed cultural prejudices against both genders. For instance, women get away with coercive sex quite often. Men are taught to be coerced, "seduced," as you might say, into sex more often than their story is told. But when men coerce women into sex, it is rape.

We must honestly reevaluate the criteria on which we judge both genders. A man in a position of power may get away with firing a woman who refuses him sexually, but a woman in an office space might get away with exposing herself to a male coworker, etc. If there is one thing I've learned in my life, it's that everything in this world is give and take. Nothing about the word "victim" is necessarily or inherently feminine. If we are closed to new perspectives (ie, that of the "male victim"), then we limit our study of gender and what we can change about it.
03/28/11 @ 12:15
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Comment from: letsbefair [Member] Email
I will say this: I think that in life, women have more options and more choice than men. That's why it's difficult for many men to understand why women are so highly represented by interest groups, political campaigns, etc. That's why the word "feminism" has a negative connotation in a lot of social circles.
03/28/11 @ 12:20
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Comment from: Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director [Member] Email
@letsbefair: Clearly we disagree on so many counts, but I appreciate your being polite. I do want to suggest that "sweetheart" is not the equivalent of "sir" by any stretch of the imagination! We worked in the same office -- he could have called me by my name. Or he could have just said "come on in" with no "sweetheart" attached. Instead he started out the interview by using a diminutive term. He did NOT make me feel inferior about myself. He did make it clear that HE felt I was inferior. He made me SEE the subtleties of how discrimination works.
03/28/11 @ 12:33
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Comment from: letsbefair [Member] Email
My point with the "sir" remark was to point out that the only way your statuses might be equivalent in either of your minds would be if he thought of you as such. Even "ma'am" is not the same as "sir," even if it connotes the same type of respect. Do you see why "double standards" are impossible to avoid? What if he had called a male employee, "kid"? That's a subordinating term that usually would be applied to men and not women - what would you think about that?

Another way to think of that is that he thinks you're inferior no matter what. He's a boss. You're an employee. Gendered terms give him one way to express that. Let's remember that language expresses things first and foremost.

Simply: correlation is NOT causation. He called you "sweetheart" because you were a woman. But he does not necessarily think you are inferior BECAUSE you are a woman. Analysis, especially that kind which seeks to name a cause, must be honest and take all possible causes into consideration. He might have thought you were inferior, but that doesn't mean he was discriminating against you for your gender, even if he expressed it as such.
04/01/11 @ 12:54
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Comment from: Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director [Member] Email
@letsbefair: You say, "double standards" are impossible to avoid; I say, yes indeedy -- that's because we live in a patriarchy!

If this boss, upon seeing the male candidate in his doorway, had said "C'mon in kid!" that MIGHT be considered belittling, but it could also be said in that joshing, "boys club" way in which men sometimes talk to each other. I am arguing that his calling me (the woman candidate) "sweetheart" was sexist, whether he had the intent to belittle me or not. Because we live in a sexist (and ageist) society, the implication was built right in!

In general, this demonstrates that it would behoove bosses to be careful about how they address employees, colleagues, interviewees, clients, etc. If you think someone is your inferior in the workplace or professional world, it's not good form to indicate such in how you address them. Now, most male bosses probably know this without having to be told, and they probably control themselves quite well, refraining from using "kid" and "boy" and "champ" -- but it's probably just a tad harder for them to remove the diminutive female terms from their vocabulary because of that pesky patriarchal framework that still remains.
04/01/11 @ 14:18
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Comment from: againstthewall [Member] Email
Sorry if I'm parking in the wrong spot, but I can't find anywhere else to share this or make a new post. I never got a confirmation about the contact form I sent, either. And I'm nearly frantic for help at this point. I wrote:

Since the economy forced me into early retirement in the cheapest part of the country where I could live, I had to give up vehicle ownership and now must use the OATS rural bus system for transportation.

Unfortunately, there are more than a few rough types to contend with including a particular employee whose presence I cannot avoid. When my personal efforts to elevate the situation at least somewhat above barnyard level proved unsuccessful, I appealed to management for relief.

There has been some improvement but not nearly enough to content any halfway civilized person, and now the most problematic employee and the most offensive passenger are trying to get me in the worst kinds of trouble for speaking out.

That particular passenger is an ex-con out on parole with a long history of drug and violence and mental health issues, and I'd not be surprised about anything a proper investigation would turn up on the employee. The OATS managers put a camera on board but the offenders have continued their civil rights violations (among others) against me to an astounding degree. They're trying hard to bring a lawsuit against ME for defaming their alleged good names, and arrested for other imaginary criminal acts!

After the ex-con pitched a screaming, yelling fit at me, ordering me to shut up and get off the bus for instance, I asked the company managers and the parole office to review the tapes for that day to see if his behavior constituted parole violation.

The ex-con and the employee behave a little better when a few passengers they're not sure of being able to bully into silence are present; but absent that circumstance, they seem to ignore the presence of the camera, knowing management clearly has no intention of curbing them to any reasonable degree.

It has become so alarming to me that I've begun sleeping with a gun under my pillow at night. If I should be dragged into court for protesting against my abusers, will anyone be there to defend me, much less make the abuse stop?
05/29/11 @ 08:27
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Comment from: rsz1@att.net [Member] Email
I ASK AGAIN: Where is NOW on the sexual harassment by ANTHONY WEINER?? You are hypocrites if you ignore him. HYPOCRITES!
06/09/11 @ 11:31
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Comment from: glad_to_be_here [Member]

This is a random place to bury your off-topic harassment.

I'll remark again:
This is an abusive way to comment. Attacking NOW's choice of article tells me nothing about your views on Anthony Weiner.

Surely this is upsetting to you. It would be healthier for you and those reading this blog to calmly broach your topic of professed interest.
06/15/11 @ 03:04
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Comment from: glad_to_be_here [Member]
@cabaret voltaire:

Haven't you got sisters or something? Are you always walking on eggshells around them?

Not sure what will offend other people? Ask them.

Here are a couple benchmarks. Since you seem uncomfortable around women, it is good for you that these rules apply equally across the gender spectrum:

* Don't put drugs in other people's drinks in order to control their behavior.
* Don't forget: you can't have sex with someone unless they're awake!

Talk to your sisters about rape and sexual harassment. They're probably against it.
06/15/11 @ 03:10
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Comment from: glad_to_be_here [Member]

Who is teaching you to be coerced? It is wrong for any person to coerce another and I'm sorry if that has happened to you.

I am not affiliated with NOW but I'm willing to go all-in here and bet not one staff member of NOW considers it acceptable for any person to expose himself or herself to a coworker. I think you are very limited in your foresight. It seems you don't think these scenarios through very well. Have you got a trouble with empathy?

None of us here will deny you the opportunity to fulfill a traditional "female" role. If you want to stay home, bake cookies, dress up in a nice apron and obsess over the way your clothes smell using particular dryer sheets in your dresser for the affect, go right ahead. I'm sorry you are in a gender-stereotyped environment. You don't seem very happy about it.

Let me be quite clear on this point (and again, I'll go all-in with the presumption that every staff member of NOW would support this): there are female children. We call them "kids."
06/15/11 @ 03:29
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Comment from: amybcs [Visitor]
NOW should update on this case. The case was tossed out due to an arbitration clause signed by Morales. Her case was also undermined by sexually explicit pictures and messages she sent to Mr. Charney.
05/20/12 @ 13:34
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