Archie Comics has brought the United States beloved and wholesome characters such as Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. However, behind the scenes at the company, things do not seem to be so wholesome. The co-CEO, Nancy Silberkleit, faces a recent lawsuit filing alleging discrimination and retaliation based on employees’ gender. She claims such discrimination is impossible because the employees in question are white men and she is making the argument that white men are not a protected class. Furthermore, she and her attorney claim her comments could not have caused extreme emotional distress in any employees, thus did not constitute any type of unlawful harassment.
The complaints alleges that Silberkleit would yell “Penis! Penis! Penis!” in business meetings to demean her male employees. Furthermore, employees state she often used the word ‘penis’ to refer to specific employees instead of using their names. Employees claimed she used her gender “as a weapon” in the office on a regular basis.
Additionally, when employees would complain about the discriminatory behavior, they claim Silberkleit purposely made them feel unsafe by stalking them around the office, bringing members of the motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels into the office, and referring to the handgun and significant stash of ammunition her late husband kept at the office.
This is not the first time Silberkleit has faced legal trouble during her time as co-CEO. She settled a case out of court last year in which employees tried to get her ousted from her position on claims of instability and threatening behavior. In addition, another one of her close colleagues again filed suit to have her removed earlier this year, though Silberkleit responded that the colleague had sexually harassed her and the case is pending.
Though white males are not in the minority in the workforce, that does not necessarily mean they are not protected under the law from discrimination and harassment at work. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits gender discrimination and sexual harassment at work and the law is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Regarding discriminatory harassment, the EEOC specifically states, “Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.” Therefore, it would seem that the Archie employees in question would be protected from harassing behavior even though they are men and the alleged harasser is a woman. The employees will have to show that her comments rose to the level of creating a hostile or offensive work environment in order to prevail.
Sexual harassment at work is unacceptable no matter what gender you and your harasser are. If you believe you have been the victim of unlawful harassment, call the employment lawyers at HKM today for help.