What Not To Do: Sexual Harassment at American Apparel

Charney’s actions have taken a toll on the company. When a leader slips, it’s difficult for employees to report misconduct internally.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Harassment, Human Resources on November 18th, 2010

American Apparel has been in the spotlight for sexual harassment allegations, shareholder lawsuits, wage-hour lawsuits and accounting inaccuracies. American Apparel is primarily a t-shirt company targeted at late-teens and twenty-somethings. Known for sexual and controversial advertising, it’s no surprise that in 2008, the company’s CEO was slapped with a few sexual harassment lawsuits- and that these lawsuits still plague the company today. Every time a company battles these types of allegations, there’s always something to learn from the situation. I’ve decided to target one particular issue at American Apparel for this post- sexual harassment. Here’s an overview of the allegations against CEO Dov Charney and some of the lessons learned from the sexual harassment lawsuits.

Sexual Harassment Allegations

Here’s a look at some of the sexual harassment allegations targeted at Charney as reported in the Daily Finance article “The Lawsuits That Could Unravel American Apparel,”:

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“The most titillating suits are the sexual harassment claims brought on by CEO Dov Charney’s penchant for walking around in his underwear, calling female employees s—- and other “endearments,” and otherwise creating a sexualized work environment. The publicly sexual nature of Charney and American Apparel’s workplace aren’t in doubt.  The most recent suggestive revelation is the claim that potential employees must submit head-to-toe photos if they want to be considered for jobs. The suits do not allege that Charney pressured anyone for sex — he does have many consensual workplace romances. Instead, the suits charge that his actions and the rest of the culture resulted in hostile work environment.”

Lessons Learned

1. Establish a Harassment Free Corporate Culture

Talk about an uncomfortable work environment. Although Charney admits no wrongdoing, he does admit that he has in fact done all of the things mentioned above, which in my opinion, is pretty extreme for the workplace. To avoid getting into the mess that American Apparel is in, develop a culture that is respectful of all employees. Create anti-harassment policies, encourage employees to report sexual harassment and reprimand those who are guilty of committing such violations. Communicate that there’s zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace. ALL employees deserve to feel safe in the workplace and should never have to put up with feeling uncomfortable or afraid to go to work.

2. Tone at the Top

Charney’s actions have obviously taken a toll on the company. When your leader acts the way Charney does, it’s difficult to report harassment and other misconduct internally. Also, if the person at the top of the organization can get away with acting inappropriately, it only trickles downward from there. You need to select leaders who demonstrate the values of the company and who act inline with the behaviors they ask of their employees. In today’s workplaces, executives and all employees are held liable for their actions and face stricter regulations than before. Executives need to punish improper behaviour, not reward it with raises, promotions and other company perks.

3. Hire People For the Right Reasons

Adding to the bizarreness that is Dov Cheney, it was reported that he often hired people on the spot based on their appearance. Hire people based on their skills and potential, not what they look like. It’s a fairly basic concept that seems to have been forgotten as this case demonstrates. During recruiting and interviews, have multiple people sit in to provide additional feedback and ensure that employees are hired for the right reasons.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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