Archie Comics co-CEO accused of gender discrimination by male employees
Nancy Silberkleit is accused by her male employees of gender discrimination such as referring to them as ‘penis’ instead of by name, but Silberkleit contends that the case should be tossed out because white males are not ‘a protected class’.
By Dareh Gregorian / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
The co-CEO of Archie Comics’ says she couldn’t have discriminated against her underlings — because they’re white men.
In papers filed in Westchester Supreme Court, Nancy Silberkleit’s lawyer says a gender discrimination lawsuit filed against her earlier this year by a group of Archie Comics employees should be tossed in part because white guys aren’t members of “a protected class.”
The embattled co-CEO’s filing also mocked the five employees’ claim that she’d used her “gender as a weapon” by yelling “Penis! Penis! Penis!” during a business meeting.
“Plaintiffs fail to allege that any such comments were directed at any of the plaintiffs in particular, or they could cause extreme emotional distress even if they had been,” her court filings say.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs, who include Archie president Mike Pellerito and editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick, countered that Silberkleit used the anatomical term many, many times.
“[T]he word ‘penis’ became somewhat of a campaign slogan and her preferred method of referring to employees in lieu of their names,” their new filing says.
Silberkleit told the Daily News on Friday that she’s baffled by the bevy of allegations against her, including claims she’s “stalked” employees and made them feel “unsafe.”
“It’s cruel and mean and inaccurate,” the former art teacher said.
“I do not act the way it’s been reported,” she said, calling the accusations “extremely damaging to myself and Archie Comics.”
And Silberkleit’s lawyer, Thomas Brown, said the employees’ allegations don’t even rise to the level of gender discrimination. “It’s absurd,” he said.
Silberkleit, 59, took over as co-CEO of the iconic comic book company — home of Archie, Jughead, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch — after her husband’s death in 2008.
She appreciated the opportunity.
“Archie Comics to me stands for very high values that are global values,” including “community, support and laughter,” she said.
But her fellow CEO, Jonathan Goldwater, filed suit seeking her ouster her in 2011, charging she was unstable and threatening to run the company into the ground.
That case 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 Silberkleit selected, 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. He said she needed to be removed altogether.
Silberkleit responded with claims Levitin had sexually harassed her — and demanded that he get the boot. That case is still pending.
Then in October came the $32.5 million suit by the Archie employees. They’re seeking a court order keeping her two miles away from the office, and say her “deliberate and disturbed campaign of outrageous conduct” has them so freaked out an armed guard’s been posted in the office.
Silberkleit, they say, invited Hell’s Angels to Archie’s Mamaroneck offices in an apparent effort to “intimidate” them, and has repeatedly inquired about the whereabouts of the handgun and 750 rounds of ammo her husband kept at the office. She’s also stalked the employees and their families, the suit says.
Silberkleit called the accusations “untrue and twisted.”
“I have not had any interactions with these people,” she said. “It’s all very puzzling. I don’t know what’s going on in their heads.”
She added that she’s rarely even in the office.
“I go around the world and promote Archie Comics. That’s what I do,” she said. She said she still think the spirit of Riverdale will win out in the end.
“I’m hoping it will all get straightened out,” she said. Asked if she’s considered walking away from the company, which was co-founded by her late husband Michael Silberkleit’s dad, she said, “That hasn’t even crossed my mind.”
“I love what I do. I love the brand,” she said.
“Everyone has that, ‘I heart Archie’ in them, and I’m proud of that.”