LOS ANGELES — American Apparel, the Los Angeles-based maker of T-shirts, touts its progressive health care benefits and wage policies and initiatives such as free English and computer classes for workers.

Now three female former employees are suing the $250 million-a-year company and president and chief executive officer Dov Charney, alleging a pattern of sexual harassment and lewdness.

The suits, filed in May in Los Angeles Superior Court, come as the company is ratcheting up its visibility. It has opened 53 stores since November 2003 and is expanding into foreign markets such as Tokyo, London, Paris and Berlin.

“American Apparel is disappointed to be involved in such litigation,” said Andy Kaplan, counsel for the clothing manufacturer. “It doesn’t want to be distracted from the management of its 4,500 employees and its business.”

Kaplan, speaking on behalf of Charney, declined to comment on the accusations. The company denied the charges in a written response to the suits.

Charney, in an interview in the June 27 issue of Business Week, said that he tries to promote an “environment of freedom” at American Apparel and that he had engaged in consensual relationships with staff members. He denied harassing employees, while saying he had “made mistakes.”

In her lawsuit, former sales manager Mary Nelson said she was subjected to “a hostile work environment” in which Charney made “unwelcome, inappropriate comments” and engaged in behavior such as dropping his pants, touching his genitals and referring to his employees in a vulgar manner.

The complaint also said that Nelson informed a co-worker that she planned to consult an attorney regarding an alleged rape involving unidentified American Apparel employees in Las Vegas during a trade show in January. Shortly thereafter, she said in the lawsuit that she was sent a letter of termination by Martin Bailey, the company’s vice president of operations.

Kaplan said the rape allegation was being handled by police in Las Vegas. The police department could not comment.

“It’s my understanding that the alleged victim withdrew charges … and continues to work for the company and the perpetrator voluntarily resigned,” Kaplan said.

Nelson’s attorney, Keith A. Fink, said he would seek 10 percent of American Apparel’s revenues for damages and had rejected an attempt by the company to settle.

This story first appeared in the June 29, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The other lawsuit was filed by Heather Pithie, who worked in human resources, and Rebecca Brinegar, a trade show coordinator. Pithie alleged that Charney told her “to find him young attractive women to engage in sex,” according to court documents. She quit in March 2005 because of the sexually offensive conduct. Brinegar also said in the suit that she resigned in January because of Charney’s alleged conduct.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Pithie and Brinegar, declined to comment on the case. Neither plaintiff could be reached for comment.

The lawsuits aren’t the first time Charney has been the subject of notoriety. An article last year in Jane magazine (like WWD, owned by Fairchild Publications Inc.) described him engaging in oral sex with an employee and masturbating in front of the reporter.

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