It was the “PENIS!” heard around the world when Archie Comics Publications (ACP) slapped a lawsuit on co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit for sexually harassing employees on July 8. Archie’s other CEO, Jon Goldwater, accused Silberkleit of yelling “PENIS! PENIS! PENIS! PENIS!” at co-workers and presented a number of anonymous emails from employees who believe “her behavior is erratic” and accuse her of bullying others.
While Silberkleit has laid low during this media frenzy of a law suit, she certainly hasn’t confirmed any of the allegations, and according to her court affidavit, she may have a case:
“Mr. Goldwater insults me both privately and in the presence of others. He has called me ‘stupid,’ a ‘moron,’ and ‘despicable.’ He has told me and others that I am hated by everyone in the company.”
“Mr. Goldwater long ago and repeatedly has told some employees and also people within the industry that he would get rid of me one way or the other.”
While these war of the words are in similar caliber to Goldwater’s anonymous emails, Silberkleit’s lawyers have armed her with powerful ammunition: Goldwater’s repeated violation of her employment agreement, the reliability of a private HR investigator’s report, the lack of “exigency” of the case and his attempt to block her as a representative of Archie Comics at events like Comic Con.
The employment agreement gave Silberkleit the right to “meaningful consultation” with Goldwater regarding any theatrical play or scholastic book related to Archie Comics. Reciprocally, Goldwater’s contract maintained he had individual authority only after “meaningful consultation” to make final decisions concerning the company.
Silberkleit maintains that Goldwater refused to seek her advice in company matters, that he “hates the requirement.” Her affidavit goes on to say Goldwater “chauvinistically seeks to undermine, exclude and not engage in any meaningful consultation with me.”
Her attorneys also raise the question of reliability of the anonymous employee emails that Goldwater and the HR investigator presented as evidence. Neither the HR report nor the emails detail the date, time or place of Silberkleit’s alleged misconduct, which her attorneys write off as unreliable hearsay.
Hearsay (out of court documents used to try to prove an element of crime) is an incredibly complex rule in the US legal system with few exceptions. However, since the people who sent these emails to Goldwater were her employees (her “agents,” if you want to get technical), it’s in their “best interest” to remain anonymous so they can fulfill the scope of their employment contract.
In other words, because ACP would want agents under Silberkleit to inform them of any abuse of power that compromises the overall work environment, the promise of anonymity is necessary in order to protect them from any “threats” that would disrupt their ability to do their job.
In this case, the agents sent emails to Goldwater about Silberkleit’s inappropriate behavior on the grounds that she would not find out and potentially “harm” them… This anonymity could be seen as an exception to hearsay.
However, juries are not stupid. The emails will most likely be allowed to fly in court, but they won’t carry much weight since the people who sent them may not be there to testify.
It also might be in Silberkleit’s best interest to keep the emails as evidence so her defense team can rip them apart for lack of detail and credibility.
Lastly, Silberkleit points out that if employee complaints about her behavior came flooding in around March, why did it take Goldwater until May to hire the HR investigator and July to file the lawsuit? She points out that if the work environment had been that much of a threat to the employees, Archie Comics Publication would have taken action long ago.
Could Goldwater be using this case as a smear campaign against Silberkleit, dirtying her name with the allegations and forcing her out of a position he might think she didn’t deserve? That’s one theory. Another is that Silberkleit may have let the frustrations of running a company in a male-dominated empire get to her.
When Nancy Silberkleit’s husband Michael passed away in 2008, she had no experience in the corporate world. But as a third grade art teacher, she saw the value of using Archie Comics to promote reading and educating students on tough topics.
But her feeling of isolation in the male-dominated industry wasn’t a secret.
“I’m a mother coming into a very male-oriented business,” Silberkleit told the Oregonian last year. “I’m not getting any support. I felt very alone.”
Jon Goldwater also took over his deceased brother’s position in 2009. His father, John, helped start the company in 1939.
The Mary Sue points out that if Jon succeeds in removing Silberkleit from the co-CEO position, “it will be the first time the company has not had a family member of one of its original founders; Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater; at the executive level.”
Despite Silberkleit’s lack of experience, she emerged in the company as a creative thinker and even planned children’s literacy tours, using decades of Archie Comics to foster a love for reading.
The comic industry has also always been a tough place for women to excel, and others in Nancy’s position can testify to the struggles.
“There were very few women in the field when I joined. And, of course, anxiety and horror washed through the DC halls when it was known that I’d been hired,” said Jenette Kahn, former DC Comics Editor-in-Chief and powerhouse, in an an interview with Sequential Tart “After all, I was in my twenties, from outside the industry and (shudder) a girl. The perception — and I’m sure it was equal part wish — was that I’d be gone in a year.”
Kahn worked her way up from a starving Art History major to publisher at DC and later, editor in chief for 26 years. But as she climbed to the top, she dealt with the unwritten rules of the business, most that were unfavorable to a young woman with a knack for successful publications.
“The learning curve was hard not just because there was so much to understand about the comic book industry but also because DC was part of a large corporation with its own culture and politics and protocol,” she said. “And, although I think we’re relatively free of politics now, DC was rife with them when I came and they were made all the worse by my presence. Lines were drawn and people took sides.”
Silberkleit may have “inherited” the CEO role from her late husband, but it’s clear that she isn’t about to give up the responsibilities. Her attorneys have filed papers seeking to dismiss the lawsuit and both sides wi
ll meet in the New York Supreme Court on August 16.
“I have never been one to see a glass half empty, but instead a glass that overflows with opportunities and solutions,” Silberkleit said to Comic Bits Online. “I embrace learning and strive to be proactive in order to follow my motto to its fullest: to make a difference in the world.”