American Apparel CEO Accused of Rubbing Dirt on Face, Silencing Workers

PHOTO: Dov Charney
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A former American Apparel store manager is suing CEO Dov Charney, saying he was verbally and physically abusive to the point of rubbing dirt in his face and now the company is trying to muzzle him.

Michael Bumblis, 24, of Inglewood, Calif., said he was hired in March 2009 and rose up the ranks eventually becoming store manager over an American Apparel retail store in Malibu before being fired on July 24 "and not given a reason."

"No employee deserves to be treated in this manner," said Bumblis' attorney, Illan Heimanson. "Mr. Charney has abused his position and power, and in doing so, he has flaunted employment laws established to protect employees like Mr. Bumblis."

He is alleging assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of civil rights, discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and religious affiliation and wrongful termination.

Bumblis claims he became "increasingly agitated and anxious at work, was unable to fully concentrate and was increasingly absent from work due to his anxiety and distress."

American Apparel employs about 10,000 people around the world, half of whom are in Los Angeles, and operates over 285 retail stores in 20 countries.

The company sells casual clothing and accessories to men and women and is known for its racy marketing with photos of young models.

Peter Schey, attorney for Dov Charney and American Apparel, said Bumblis "was recently terminated by American Apparel for reasons fully consistent with company policy. To protect the rights of former employees, we do not comment publicly on the reasons for terminations."

Schey said the allegations in the lawsuit are "false."

According to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Nov. 29, Bumblis said Charney would "periodically" visit the store, "usually on an hour's notice," and he would "occasionally" see Charney at managers' meetings at the company's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

Charney has a "well known, long and unenviable reputation for aggressive, violent, erratic, inappropriate, and harassing behavior towards others, including [American Apparel's] employees," Bumblis said in his suit.

Read more: American Apparel CEO Dov Charney: A Tarnished Hero?

One of the first encounters in which Bumblis said he felt "threatened" by Charney began at a Las Vegas convention in February. Bumblis said Charney greeted him when he was standing with an unnamed woman.

Later in April, Bumblis said Charney called him and "launched into an expletive ridden diatribe," asking if he was "banging that girl you were with in Vegas" and berated him for having "negative same store sales."

Bumblis claims Charney said, "You should have been f****** fired months ago," and called him slurs related to being Jewish and gay, though Bumblis says he is neither.

On one occasion when Charney came to inspect construction work on the store Bumblis managed, the CEO went to a second-story make-shift stock room that was not completed. After an alleged argument about the store's new inventory system, Bumblis said Charney "dove" at him, "grabbed" his throat with both hands "and began to forcibly squeeze [Bumblis'] throat in an attempt to choke or strangle" him, according to the suit.

Later during that visit, the suit states, Charney noticed dirt in a narrow space between a fitting room wall and the store wall and called to Bumblis saying, "Come here! Look how disgusting you are."

"Rub it on your face," Charney allegedly said, then "proceeded to scoop up the dirt and forcibly attempt to rub the dirt on plaintiff's face," the suit states.

"The allegations in this lawsuit are false and Mr. Bumblis and his lawyers know that any complaints the company may have against Mr. Bumblis, or complaints he may have against the company, are to be addressed in binding arbitration, not in the media or the courts," Schey said in a statement. "In addition to the conduct that led to his termination, Mr. Bumblis has also violated his written agreement to arbitrate any disputes with the company. We will shortly initiate arbitration against Mr. Bumblis and have no doubt that the court will require that he join the arbitration proceedings where we expect the company's claims against him will be upheld."

Bumblis acknowledges in his suit that he signed as a condition of employment a "Mandatory Arbitration and Mediation Agreement" and an "At Will Employment Confidentiality Agreement." The suit states that the latter contains a provision of liquidated damages of $1 million "chargeable against any employee that reveals virtually any detail of their employment."

The suit states that these agreements "bar employees from voicing grievances, filing complaints and exercising their rights to protected speech."

"Instead of curbing Mr. Charney and protecting their employees, American Apparel's board of directors, officers and lawyers have repeatedly protected him through legal tactics, such as confidentiality provisions and arbitration clauses in employment agreements, which effectively silence the voices of their aggrieved employees, relegating their complaints to the dark back rooms of private courts, away from the scrutiny of the public and American Apparel's shareholders," Heimanson said.

American Apparel employs about 10,000 people around the world, half of whom are in Los Angeles, and operates over 285 retail stores in 20 countries.

The company sells casual clothing and accessories to men and women and is known for its racy marketing with photos of young models.

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