This is not your father’s sex discrimination case. The accusers in it are males and are claiming that their boss — a female — discriminated against them by (among other things) yelling “Penis! Penis! Penis!” during a business meeting.
New York’s Daily News reports that Nancy Silberkleit, the co-CEO of Archie Comics, is on the defensive after using “gender as a weapon,” according to papers filed in October in Westchester Supreme Court by five employees, including Archie president Mike Pellerito and Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs maintain that Silberkleit used the anatomical term numerous times, adding, “[T]he word ‘penis’ became somewhat of a campaign slogan and her preferred method of referring to employees in lieu of their names.”
Silberkleit does not deny having uttered the word penis and synonyms for that feature for the male anatomy. Her defense, rather, is that she couldn’t have discriminated against her underlings because they’re white men and, therefore, not members of “a protected class.”
Silberkleit, 59, took over as co-CEO of the iconic comic book company after her husband’s death in 2008. “Archie Comics to me,” she told reporters, “stands for very high values that are global values,” including “community, support and laughter.” But her fellow CEO, Jonathan Goldwater, filed suit in 2011, seeking her ouster. He charged that she was unstable and threatening to run the company into the ground.
The case was settled last year, with an agreement that Silberkleit would have limited interactions with the employees and that a go-between would represent her interests with the company.
The dispute erupted again earlier this year, when the go-between, Samuel Levitin, filed papers in Westchester Surrogate’s Court charging that she’d become unhinged, and even wanted to “tart up” beloved characters Betty and Veronica. Silberkleit countered with allegations that Levitin had sexually harassed her and demanded that he receive the boot. That case is still pending.
Now Silberkleit is back in court, contesting a $32.5 million suit by her employees, who are also seeking a court order that prevents her from coming within two miles of the office.
In their suit, the plaintiffs claim have suffered extreme emotional distress after Silberkleit invited Hell’s Angels to the Mamaroneck offices in an apparent attempt to “intimidate” them and has repeatedly inquired about the whereabouts of the handgun and 750 rounds of ammo her husband kept at the office.
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