Sexual Harassment As A First Amendment Right
Today I'm going to write a news story that was passed along by a little PR birdie. My boss refused to let me write about it because someone in our other office already snagged it and I am BUMMED! So, basically...
Just last week, Los Angeles Superior Court decided that the sexual harassment and wrongful termination suit against American Apparel mogul Dov Charney will be settled outside of court, through an arbiter. Behind closed doors, sans standard judge and jury, the case will be the first ever tried in relation to a previous sexual harassment suit brought upon the frat boy antic-obsessed writers of "Friends."
In the 2002 suit brought against the popular series' writers, the female plaintiff described a "boys club" environment of simulated masturbation in cubicles, open discussion of sex involving actress' Cox and Aniston, and graphic sexual drawings passed around the office. The "Friends" case was dismissed after plaintiff Amaani Lyle's failed appeal attempt in 2006, on the grounds that the events were not directly targeting her (although she reported being grilled about her personal sex life by colleagues), and that the behavior was acceptable because it occurred in a "creative work environment" and was categorized as part of the "exchange of ideas."
Charney has cleverly hired lead counsel Adam Levine, a key player in the "Friends" suit, who will argue that the AA founder's behavior--including calling his employees sluts and whores--is a part of the marketing and advertisement dept's creative process.
Apparently, the "Friends" ruling sets a fantastic precedent for Charney, who faces his fifth major sexual harassment suit.
Verified accounts of the handlebar-moustached 70s fashionista include countless charges of indecency including: holding meetings in his underwear, approaching women with nothing but a Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired sock to cover his penis, requesting that a female employee masturbate with him in his office, and telling an HR woman to hire young women he could have sex with, preferably Asian.
And then there was the 2005 Jane Magazine brouhaha, in which reporter Claudine Ko interviewed Charney as he masturbated several times and, at one point, calling in a female employee to perform fellatio. Below is an excerpt:
I asked him how he relaxed. Oral sex he says, settling into a chair behind a cloud of smoke. “I love it … I am a bit of a dirty guy, but people like that right now.”
Explaining exactly how the rest of the night unraveled is somewhat difficult. Let’s just say, the female employee helped him “put on a show” for me. I watched, trying to be objective, detached - sorta like a … war reporter?
Side note: this article successful convinced me not to: a)buy American Apparel anymore and b)never read Jane again.
According to an '05 BusinessWeek article, there were several employees who thought there was simply a general misconception about Dov, that such "harassment" was just a part of his quirky persona, but others held a different view. The magazine reports:
They told stories of senior managers who pursued sexual relationships with less senior colleagues and rewarded their favorites with promotions, company cars, and apartments. "It was a company built on lechery," says a former stock person. "I thought it was a male contemporary perspective on feminism, but it turns out to be just a gimmick," says another ex-employee.In one of the most recent interviews with Charney, CNBC's Margaret Brennan reports that, off-air, her subject yelled a series of expletives at her during an investor conference by the mere mention of his sexual harassment lawsuit:
He yelled with pointed finger in my face (and I'm quoting) "I know dirty and I know clean and that was dirty!"As Charney's professional behavior is called into question, another high-profile sexual harassment case that was filed in 2006 could get a similar verdict as a result of the "Friends" writers' success. In it, a former female employee of the "Maury Povich Show" slapped a $100 million suit against Povich and other employees alleging she was "forced...to run a gauntlet of sexually abusive and intimidating conduct," including "pos[ing] in sexually explicit positions," and exposing her breasts to be "photographed and shown" on the Maury Povich Show. This suit, much like the other sexual harassment cases, is sure to push for the First Amendment rights of the defendants.
Employment and labor lawyers across the country are watching the recent Charney case, as it could inject a host of constitutional complexities into the already-gray areas of sexual harassment policy.
My verdict: I'm a little torn about all of these cases. A side of me desperately wants to see Charney put behind bars or loose a great deal of money so that his politically-warped empire ultimately crumbles, but then again, I cannot wholeheartedly side with the women involved in any of these situations. In the cases of Charney and Pouvich: come on ladies, know the company you work for, and know you're signing away your self-respect as a feminist. In the "Friends" case, I am considerably torn because, while the plaintiff was not directly targeted, it's not as if a part of the "creative process" involved pornographic scenarios. Unless there's an alternative series of "Friends" that plays late night on Cinemax.