According to a recent Washington Post article, five white men are suing Archie Comics female co-CEO for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Nancy Silberkleit, the widower of one of Archie Comics three founders, became the co-CEO of the company in 2008. Interestingly, Silberkleit’s co-CEO and half-brother of the second founder of Archie Comics sued to have Silberkleit removed from her position due to instability and alienation of the company’s employees. Clearly she did not lose her co-CEO position, but there was a temporary order that prevented her from going to the office while the lawsuit was pending. The complaints in the current lawsuit are seeking not only $32.5 million, but a court order that would keep Silberkleit two miles from the office.
The five men, who include the company’s president and editor-in-chief, claim that she used the word “penis” frequently and often in place of the employees’ names. She allegedly also shouted the word out randomly during meetings. Furthermore, they claim that she stalked them and their families. In response to the current lawsuit, she claims that she does “not act the way it’s been reported” and that it is “extremely damaging” to the company. Additionally, she claims there is no way that she sexually harassed any of the complaints because all five of them are white males. Her argument is based on the idea that white men are not a protected class.
Gender discrimination, or sex-based discrimination, was initially addressed in response to unfavorable treatment of women in the workforce. Over the years, gender discrimination has taken on a broader definition and set of circumstances. State and federal laws protect all employees and prohibit discrimination based on gender. This means that not only are all employees protected, it also means that all employees could potentially be discriminated against. As with most forms of discrimination, with the exception of age discrimination, courts have found that reverse discrimination is possible when it comes to gender discrimination.
Reverse discrimination is when the discrimination is against the group that was originally the discriminators. For instance, in this case a woman was both harassing and treating men differently based on their gender. Or another instance of reverse discrimination would be when a restaurant only hires extremely well-endowed, but less qualified, women for server positions, even though there are well-qualified men also applying for the position. Because reverse discrimination does not elicit an automatic negative reaction for those who observe it, it can be harder to prove. However, there are situations, like a CEO repeatedly saying “penis” during meetings and in place of employees’ names, where the evidence is easier to see upfront.
If you believe you have suffered from gender discrimination or other forms of wrongful discrimination at work, contact an HKM employment attorney.