The founder of the US fashion brand American Apparel, who was fired last week, has launched a campaign to get his job back and said he will seek severance pay of up to $25m (£15m) if he is unsuccessful.
Dov Charney said the company he founded 25 years ago, and which became known for its Made in the USA fashion items, had embarked on a "grotesque" and "hateful" campaign against him. The directors have accused Charney – who has described himself as "a dirty man" and has faced a number of sexual harassment lawsuits – of misconduct.
The 45-year-old has achieved notoriety for unconventional behaviour, including walking round the factory floor wearing only his underpants. His claim for a pay-off was filed with US regulators and, in a defiant interview with the Financial Times, Charney said he was "the best man for this job" at the company, which was on the brink of collapse three years ago. The American Apparel board said the decision to sack the firm's founder was made for non-financial reasons.
"It's sad to me that the board are invoking sexual shame in a false way to advance their agenda. It's almost like mocking someone's sexual orientation in order to advance themselves," he said.
For the interview, Charney took the FT to a corporate flat, which he described as a "war room", and which the FT describes as "a deeply unluxurious studio". His termination letter accused him of misusing corporate assets.
According to reports, Charney was asked to leave after engaging in conduct that violated the company's sexual harassment and anti-discriminatory policy and misused company assets for personal and non-personal business reasons.
"You've now seen our corporate apartment in Manhattan – you've seen the truth when they accuse me of misuse of funds," Charney said.
Allan Mayer, co-chairman of American Apparel, rebutted Charney's defence and said the investigation was continuing. "We are extremely confident of our decisions and our actions. It's not a happy thing. Dov Charney built an amazing company … [but] he had personal flaws that made it impossible for us to allow him to continue in the company," he said.
Charney said: "I believe the allegations that they have made against me in my termination letter to be entirely false. Many of the things in the letter that they portray as negative are, in fact, actually best practice.
"I think it's highly unusual that a board – any board – would indulge in such a hateful PR campaign against its founder. I think it is grotesque. It's a lash-out that stems from a false place due to a lack of research into the work I've been doing over the last year," he said.
Charney acknowledged that he might have opened too many stores in 2006 but said he would continue to reduce the company's inventory if he were able to stay at work, after cutting it by 16% last year.
"I know I can drive up sales because I've been doing it. In the first quarter of this year, for example, we have had record sales thus far in wholesale," he said.
He describes how he moved into a troubled distribution centre and had a shower built as he was there "20 hours a day for three full months".
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