A black former employee of American Apparel was awarded more than $300,000 after an arbitrator found that a supervisor "severely harassed" him --- and called him a "nigger."
According to attorneys for the plaintiff, Christopher Renfro, American Apparel flew their client to Tennessee to help with the renovation of several stores. During the trip, Renfro's attorneys said Sean Alonzo, Renfro's supervisor and the company's creative director, "repeatedly referred to Mr. Renfro as a 'nigger' in front of other employees." Neither Renfro or his lawyers deny that he used the word, but they said he was reciting a rap song when he did so.
Renfro's lawyers said that the complaints to the retailer's human resources department were not taken seriously until they were threatened with legal action --- and that Alonzo was given a raise two days after the company formally disciplined him. The arbitrator said Alonzo "demonstrated not only offensive racial hostility, but also a confused and persistent attempt to avoid blame for obvious wrongdoing."
American Apparel, through a litigator, reiterated that it was committed to a discrimination-free environment, and downplayed the accusations against Alonzo. "Mr. Renfro's claim of racial discrimination is the first and only claim of racial discrimination made by the Company's 10,000+ employees," their chief counsel said in a press release.
Racial discrimination, sure. But the company has been battling sexual harassment and discrimination charges and lawsuits for awhile. Dov Charney, the company's founder and CEO --- and the person to whom Alonzo directly reported --- has been repeatedly accused of trying to pressure women into having sex with him and masturbating in front of a reporter who was profiling him. Charney regularly meets teenage women on the street and offers them positions at his company either in stores or as as models in the company's provocative ads like the one above --- a setup ripe for exploitation.
He and his company have so far managed to avoid losing any of the lawsuits against them by former employees, but they haven't been able to skirt their money woes. The company has been struggling to stay out of bankruptcy as its sales have plummeted.