A former American Apparel sales associate filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging she was sexually harassed by Dov Charney, the company’s unconventional chief executive and founder best known for promoting his American-made T-shirts and leggings in provocative ads that feature young women.
In an interview, Kimbra Lo, the former associate, said the harassment happened last December, seven months after she left American Apparel , when she went to Mr. Charney’s Los Angeles home to discuss being rehired as a photographer and model. Previously Ms. Lo, 19, worked in one of the company’s New York stores.
Her claim is part of a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court that also named three other women — Alyssa Ferguson, Marissa Wilson and Tesa Lubans-Dehaven — who did not publicly disclose the nature of their complaints because they signed confidentiality agreements while employed at American Apparel. Eric Baum, the women’s lawyer, said he did not believe the agreements were enforceable. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
All American Apparel employees are required to sign arbitration and confidentiality agreements when they are hired, the company said.
“I think all of these claims are contrived,” said Peter Schey, Mr. Charney’s lawyer. “The allegations are false. I think this is an effort to shake down American Apparel. These claims should be resolved in confidential arbitration.”
Wednesday’s lawsuit is the second to be filed this month against Mr. Charney and American Apparel involving allegations of sexual harassment. Irene Morales, who worked at an American Apparel store in the late 2000s, filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Brooklyn claiming Mr. Charney forced her to engage in sexual acts for eight months.
American Apparel called the allegations by Ms. Morales baseless.
The judge in her case is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether Ms. Morales will be required to settle the case in arbitration.
Gary E. Phelan, an employment law lawyer based in Westport, Conn., said that while it was common for employers to seek arbitration to settle disputes, asking someone like a store clerk to sign a confidentiality agreement was not routine. “That is a red flag,” he said.
Before this month, Mr. Charney had been sued at least four times since the mid-2000s, accused of creating what some women said was a sexually charged, hostile environment. Those suits were dismissed or settled, the company said.
In the interview, Ms. Lo claimed that Mr. Charney, wrapped in a towel, invited her to his bedroom to talk about a job. Once there, she said he undressed her and tried to have sex. Ms. Lo said she sought to resist but was afraid, and that he tried to take photographs.
Mr. Charney has said he often holds meetings in his bedroom. In a 2010 American Apparel ad, he was depicted in bed alongside two female employees. Employees regularly stay at his home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles when they are in town on business. And Mr. Charney has spoken openly about having sexual relationships with some of his workers.
“Any time a chief executive mixes the personal and professional it can lead to problems,” Mr. Phelan said.
In the interview, Ms. Lo said Mr. Charney did not harass her when she was an employee. After she left, though, and was pursuing modeling opportunities, she said Mr. Charney sent her sexually explicit text messages and asked her for photographs for potential assignments.
Ms. Lo said that after the December meeting she called her mother who, in turn, called Mr. Charney and “demanded he never contact her daughter again.” Ms. Lo said she contacted Mr. Charney to demand an apology.
American Apparel has had its share of financial troubles the past few years. Last summer the company warned investors it did not have enough capital to continue for 12 months.
In October, Lion Capital, American Apparel’s largest outside investor, agreed to amend its credit agreement with the company and acknowledged it was seeking management changes. That month it hired an acting president and, last month, a new chief financial officer.