BY S.E. SMITH
It’s not a surprise that Dov Charney is a seriously skeezy guy: We’ve been watching testimony after testimony emerge from American Apparel from current and former employees talking about how unbelievably gross the company’s current CEO was on the job. After all, it’s one of the key reasons he was fired in the first place, and it’s one of the reasons the firm decisively stated that he was so inappropriate that the possibility of being reinstated was out of the question.
Last week, however, Dov Charney’s term at the company really leveled up, thanks to a slew of documents released by American Apparel as part of an anti-SLAPP suit.
Charney, for those who haven’t been following the antics of American Apparel’s disgraced former CEO, has been repeatedly suing the company for wrongful termination and defamation. The company feels that his legal machinations are constituting a Strategic Lawsuit(s, in this case) Against Public Participation—SLAPP. In other words, he’s tangling American Apparel up in endless litigation in the hopes of getting them to stop talking about his time at the company.
They’re tired of it, so on Friday, they filed some rather damning documents at the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Let’s be real: Charney has been subject to a sexual assault lawsuit, allegations of repeated rape of a teen employee, and suspicions about financial misdoings—he’s even under investigation by the SEC. American Apparel claims that he cost them some $10 million in litigation, and that the cost for employment practices liability insurance at the company nearly tripled under his term. Notably, his firing correlated with a very abrupt jump in stock value. Make of that what you will.
But the documents fired on Friday reveal exactly how terrifyingly awful Charney was during his time at the company. Let’s talk, for example, about his racial slurs, like the time he called people “Filipino pigs” and commented that someone was a “long-haired wanna-be Jew” before attempting to smear dirt in his face and trying to strangle him. Somewhere in the midst of his tirade, Charney also managed to take time out to suggest that the employee was gay (presumably with additional slurs), like this is somehow evidence of moral failing.
Charney has been subject to a sexual assault lawsuit, allegations of repeated rape of a teen employee, and suspicions about financial misdoings—he’s even under investigation by the SEC.
He also apparently filmed himself “having sex with” models and retail associates—given his previous record, I use scare quotes because it’s unclear whether that sex was consensual—and, unbelievably, stored the videos on company servers. He also liked to sext his employees and then tell them to delete “naughty” messages.
I mean, if you were in any doubt that Dov Charney is a total and complete scumbucket, these allegations should pretty much seal the deal—especially given the huge amount of evidence against him. Like, say, his porno on company servers. While people are innocent until proven guilty in American courts of law, a long trail of sexual assault allegations and other claims of heinous behavior follows Charney wherever he goes, which suggests that there’s a systemic problem here, and that Charney should have been taken to task long before he actually was.
The thing about this case that troubles me isn’t just that American Apparel obviously knew that Charney was a problem and failed to act for an extended period of time. It’s not just that employees were hesitant to file suits until they saw momentum building up around Charney and felt more confident about coming forward. It’s not just that people across the company—models, retail staff, administrators, and garment producers—likely experienced the worst side of Dov Charney.
It’s the thought of how many other companies where this is happening right now and we’re not hearing about it. The wheels of change are slow to turn, and building up the courage to confront a sexually, racially, or otherwise abusive supervisor—let alone the CEO of your company—can take a long time. Abusers tend to work to isolate their victims, making it even more challenging to come forward, as people may think they are alone or without support. They may also fear retaliation, public shaming, or abuse from other people in a company if they dare to be the ones exposing abuse.
There are lots of Dov Charneys in the world, abusing their positions to exploit the people in powerless positions under them. They may view the bodies of the people working under them as their own personal property, and they may consider it perfectly acceptable to heap people with verbal abuse, and people may feel too frozen to fight back. They’re alone. They can’t lose their jobs. They don’t have the legal support to file suits to defend themselves and see justice in their cases. They fear slut-shaming—especially at a company like American Apparel, which even without Charney continues to behave in unbelievably sexist ways when it comes to recruiting retail personnel and models.
There are lots of Dov Charneys in the world, abusing their positions to exploit the people in powerless positions under them.
Being abused and assaulted is terrible in any circumstance. At work, it carries a loaded and complicated burden, as it intersects with your very livelihood, and workplace cultures like American Apparel’s under Charney actively encouraged an environment of tolerance for sexual harassment and assault. But we know that other companies, like Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Urban Outfitters, can have similarly sexist workplace environments, and with sexism often comes a sense of entitlement to the bodies and lives of workers, especially retail crew.
I’m glad to see American Apparel finally pulling the veil back on the scope of Charney’s behavior, although I’m still not impressed with how long it took the company to get it together when it came to justice for its employees.
Fear keeps people silent, and silence feeds cultures of abuse. The conversation to be having is not just about Charney as an outstanding example of sexist extremes in the workplace, but about how many men like him are lurking in the ranks of companies large and small across the nation, and how we can ferret them out to hold firms accountable for the things they chose to ignore in the interests of not making waves.
S.E. Smith is a writer, editor, and agitator with regular appearances in the Guardian, AlterNet, and Salon, along with several anthologies. Smith also serves as the Social Justice Editor for xoJane and will be co-chairing Wiscon 40—the preeminent feminist science-fiction conference—in 2016.
Photo via dovcharney/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)