A Field Guide to American Apparel’s Dov Charney

This past week, the Board of Directors of American Apparel ousted Dov Charney, the Canadian businessman who started the company at age 20. Charney has been a controversial figure in the business world for some time. Yes, he’s an advocate for fair wages, and a strong opponent of sweatshops. But yeah, he’s also been associated with several pretty shady lawsuits. For those just catching up, a quick primer on Dov Charney:

The reason that Charney was fired. According to Newsweek, an internal investigation by the company claims the 45 year old misused company funds, and failed “to stop the discrediting of at least one former employee who had accused him of sexual harassment.” Sources for several newspapers also point to his legacy of alleged misconduct. Charney has been the subject of multiple sexual harassment lawsuits, though none of the accusations have been proven in court. “The company has grown a lot bigger than just one person and the liabilities Dov brought to the situation began to far outweigh his strengths,” Allan Mayer, the board’s new co-chairman, told The New York Times.

The reason we loved AA. . . at first. Charney’s philosophy for American Apparel is based on giving factory workers a living wage. Employees have access to a health clinic, subsidized meals, English-language classes, and other benefits unusual in manufacturing jobs. It does really seem like a decent place to work for those in the factory part of things. In the office? Not so much.

The dark history of allegations. One of the lawsuits accused Charney of creating “a hostile work environment by using sexually explicit language and walking around the office dressed only in his underwear or less.” Charney did not deny those allegations. Another case, brought by a male employee, claimed that Charney had choked him and rubbed dirt in his face. In another case, a former employee accused Charney of keeping her as a sex slave. A Brooklyn judge threw out the case.

Let’s not forget the ad campaigns. American Apparel is also known for its racy print ad campaigns. Many of the provocative photos feature women shot by Charney himself. He has been widely criticized for his alleged use of underage models in those campaigns. In 2009, meanwhile, the company settled a lawsuit with Woody Allen, after using an image for a billboard from one of his films (Annie Hall) without the director’s permission.

More money, more problems. American Apparel has faced serious financial troubles in past years, coming close to bankruptcy in 2010. But, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the ousting of Charney could lead to more money problems for the company. “Charney’s sudden firing probably will lead to drastic changes at the company,” notes the Times. “. . . layoffs, store closures, bankruptcy, a sale and even a shift away from the ‘made in America’ manufacturing strategy Charney championed.”

The man, the myth, the creepiness: When he’s not holed up in his bunker-like 11,000 square foot Los Angeles mansion, sources say, he’s been known to knock on employees doors at all hours of the night to talk shop. He’s also been accused of calling his employees “sluts,” which he later defended in court, referring to it as a term of endearment. He’s claimed feminism is “out of balance” and famously crossed the line in a major way with one female reporter for Jane magazine. That incident was back in 2004. On Wednesday, the company announced Charney’s immediate suspension from his role as CEO and chairman of American Apparel. In light of all that went down in the past, it’s surprising he lasted as long as he did.

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