Judge halts $250M sex suit against American Apparel founder–for now

A judge in Brooklyn has put a stop, at least temporarily, to a $250 million civil lawsuit against American Apparel founder Dov Charney. The suit, filed March 4 by former American Apparel employee Irene Morales, alleges that Charney forced her into a sexual relationship and promised job advancement in return.

Charney, 42, founded the Los Angeles-based urban clothing chain in 1989 and quickly grew the brand based on its made-in-the-USA claim. The company’s provocative marketing campaigns, featuring young, bored-looking models in pseudo-softcore poses–an aesthetic more akin to an amateur stag film from 1974 than high fashion–made the cotton-knit sportswear an edgy, must-have wardrobe component for hipsters everywhere.

The retail salespeople were part of American Apparel’s branding; Charney allegedly hired (and fired) workers depending on how closely they adhered to the look of the marketing collateral. Morales, who was 17 with dark wavy hair and penetrating, deep brown eyes when she began working at American Apparel’s Chelsea store, apparently fit the brand’s ideal. Charney has been accused of maintaining a workplace that tolerates sexual harassment, discriminates based on appearance and serves as his personal harem.

Morales, now 20, claims Charney invited her to his Manhattan bachelor pad one night in April 2008 and forced her to have sex with him. The relationship continued for eight months because, Morales said, she was afraid of going to the police and losing her job.

“[I] believed I would work in a professional environment where promotions and work advancement would be based on merit and hard work…I was extremely devastated to find out that was not the case,” she said in court papers, which also mention she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown following the incident.

American Apparel lawyers responded by saying Morales filed the multimillion-dollar suit “after making a number of extortion-like threats to expose the company to a threatened avalanche of litigation and negative publicity.”

In temporarily halting the case, the judge called for a hearing to determine whether the case had enough merit to proceed.

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