Archie Comics CEO's ‘Protected Class’ Harassment Defense Doesn’t Stand A Chance

 @EllenKilloran on December 06 2013 4:21 PM

White men may have a privileged societal position, but that doesn't mean they are not protected from harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 

As the Daily News first reported earlier this week, Archie Comic Publications CEO Nancy Silberkleit is battling a sex discrimination and harassment lawsuit that was filed against her by a group of male Archie employees who claim Silberkleit routinely used the word “penis” in place of the men’s names. But Silberkleit’s defense team is trying to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the white male plaintiffs do not represent “a protected class.”

But as labor and employment attorney Jonathan T. Hyman  pointed out, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on any “race, color, religion, sex and national origin” --  regardless of whether the discrimination is committed by a member of the majority group or a minority group. Hyman explained further in a post on Martindale.com:

"[Title VII] protects all employees from discrimination. Thus, a male employee enjoys the same rights as a female employee to a workplace free from discrimination, just as a white employee has the same rights a black employee. An employer cannot treat men differently than women, or whites differently than blacks, and the disparately affected and marginalized class (whether or not a historical minority) has a claim … My advice to Nancy Silberkleit? Abandon your defense, get out your checkbook, and take some EEO training."

Silberkleit might, in fact, be better positioned if her defense could demonstrate that she referred to all employees by their genitals -- male and female. This is what Hyman refers to as the “equally opportunity jerk” defense: If an employer is not selectively hostile, it would be more difficult for an individual or a particular group of employees to successfully sue for discrimination.

The $32.5 million suit, filed in October in Westchester County, accuses Silberkleit of a “deliberate and disturbed campaign of outrageous conduct.” The plaintiffs are seeking a court order to keep Silberkleit at least two miles away from the company’s Mamaroneck office, where she told the Daily News she has spent very little time to date.

"I have not had any interactions with these people," Silberkleit told the Daily News. "It's all very puzzling. I don't know what's going on in their heads." 

Silberkleit joined Archie Comic Publications, Inc., in 2009 as co-CEO. She inherited a stake in the company from her late husband Michael Silberkleit, who was a co-CEO until his death. Fellow CEO Jonathan Goldwater filed a suit in 2011 seeking to relieve her of her position, claiming she presented “a real, imminent, and severe threat to the company and its employees.” The suit was settled in 2012.

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