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American Apparel backs CEO on new sex harassment claims

L.A. clothing maker, responding to the second harassment case filed this month, says four former employees are trying to 'shake down' founder Dov Charney and the company through false allegations.

March 25, 2011|By Andrea Chang and Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles clothing maker American Apparel Inc. lashed out Thursday against four former employees who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company and Dov Charney, its chief executive.

The company said that the four women were friends who were colluding to "shake down" Charney and the company for money and that it had "voluminous evidence" to prove that the allegations were false.

"These allegations are preposterous," said Frank Seddigh, a lawyer for American Apparel.

At the company's downtown headquarters Thursday, Charney and his advisors showed Times reporters sexually explicit emails, photos and text messages from some of the women who sued the company this month.

The photos showed some of the women posing nude in suggestive positions, in one case with Charney. In many of the texts and emails provided during the meeting, the women asked Charney to pay for airfares and provide them with money.

The suit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday by former employees Kimbra Lo, Alyssa Ferguson, Marissa Wilson and Tesa Lubans-Dehaven.

All are represented by the same lawyer who this month filed a separate sexual harassment suit in New York against Charney.

Asked about the photos shown by Charney on Thursday, the lawyer, Eric Baum, said, "We have no way to verify the emails or photos in question or if it is just more of American Apparel's propaganda."

This week's complaint says Charney began sending Lo "sexual text messages" in July 2010 and that he called her and said "he was masturbating on the phone while they spoke."

According to the suit, Lo ignored his calls and messages until Charney offered her a modeling and photography job in December, inviting her to meet him in his home to discuss the position.

After she arrived, Charney, wearing only a towel, "violently kissed her" and forced her to perform sexual acts, the suit alleges.

This week's lawsuit was another black cloud for American Apparel, which has been fighting slumping sales and shaking up its management at the same time that it is defending itself against sexual harassment claims.

Earlier this month, former American Apparel employee Irene Morales sued Charney in New York state court, saying he had forced her to perform oral sex on him in his New York apartment in 2008 and sexually harassed her for months.

American Apparel said in court papers that Morales sued "after making a number of extortion-like threats to expose the company to a threatened avalanche of litigation and negative publicity."

The company has asked the court to send her case to confidential arbitration.

On Friday, Morales is expected to appear for a court hearing in Brooklyn to determine how her case should proceed.

Charney has faced several sexual harassment lawsuits over the years, but none has gone to trial. American Apparel's board of directors has publicly stood behind him.

Baum said he was confident that his clients were telling the truth. Of Lo, he said she was "tricked" into meeting with Charney "and then was sexually assaulted and abused."

"The company's statement is both irresponsible and false," he said Thursday. "The claims are legitimate and valid."

andrea.chang@latimes.com

nathan.olivarezgiles@latimes.com

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