A New York judge who described Archie Comics as a company “in chains” has barred Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit from “harassing, yelling at or abusing” anyone at its corporate headquarters.
In the Nov. 28 preliminary injuction, obtained by CBR News, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich, also ruled that Silberkleit must refrain from any contact with Archie staff or vendors regarding matters other than those required by her employment contract. The order is only the latest development in a struggle within the comics company that came to light in July when Archie sued Silberkleit, seeking to remove her from its Mamaroneck, N.Y., offices because of what it described as “inappropriate and offensive language and behavior.”
Word of the injunction surfaced even as three Elyria, Ohio, schools canceled planned Friday appearances by Silberkleit, after receiving anonymous phone calls questioning her selection as a speaker for a series of comic book fairs. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that after discovering information about the lawsuit during an online search, school officials expressed concerns to the event organizers, and the speeches were canceled.
Archie contends that Silberklet’s “offensive” behavior dates back to 2009, when she stepped into the co-CEO role following the death of her husband Michael Silberkleit, son of co-founder Louis Silberkleit. In one incident, she allegedly interrupted a meeting and pointed to each of the four men in the room, shouting “PENIS, PENIS, PENIS, PENIS.” In another, she reportedly complained that her “balls hurt.” Another employee asserts he heard Silberkleit say, “All you penises think you can run me out.” One staff member allegedly threatened to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to court documents, Silberkleit declined to participate in an investigation conducted by an outside firm hired by Archie following the employee allegations. In its June 24 findings, the firm reported assertions by employees that Silberkleit created “nervousness and disruption” in an office otherwise described as “generally amiable, cheerful and creative,” and had threatened many of their jobs. A number of staff members also expressed concerns about their personal safety. The firm subsequently recommended Archie seek to remove Silberkleit from its headquarters, and prevent her from having contact with employees or vendors.
For her part, Silberkleit claims the accusations are merely “a thinly veneered attempt to smear my name and gain complete corporate control” for her corporate counterpart, Co-CEO Jon Goldwater. She contends that Goldwater, son of Archie Comics co-founder John L. Goldwater, is a chauvinist who’s attempting to drive her out of the company.
“He has called me ‘stupid,’ a ‘moron,’ and ‘despicable,'” Silberkleit said in an affidavit filed in early July. “In the presence of others he has told me to ‘shut up’ and ‘why can’t you be sweet, nice and quiet like a lady?’ ” Contrary to affidavits from seven Archie employees, Silberkleit said she has never made threatening or demeaning comments or off-color jokes that might jeopardize the operation of the company.
The matter is made even more complicated because Silberkleit isn’t simply an employee; as co-executor of her late husband’s estate, she controls a 50 percent stake in the company. That, however, is in dispute, as the children from Michael Silberkleit’s first marriage are contesting their father’s last will, written while he was dying of cancer.
In an August hearing before Kornreich, Silberkleit’s attorney argued his client’s contract prevents her removal from the corporate offices. The judge, while sympathetic to Archie, admitted to being “hamstrung,” and suggested that the only remedies would be to terminate Silberkleit’s employment or, more drastically, to dissolve the business, “which would, of course, destroy a very valuable company and an important asset to both the Silberkleit and Goldwater families.” Kornreich said there is “clearly cause” to fire Silberkleit.
“Whether Ms. Silberkleit, Nancy Silberkleit is really the person who should be here or even representative of the families is a huge question,” Kornreich said. “At this point it is questionable who owns the Silberkleit shares, but the company, frankly, is in chains. As far as I can see, if, in fact, Ms. Silberkleit stays, the company will probably be destroyed, which she doesn’t seem to care.”
Attorneys for Archie and Silberkleit are scheduled to appear Tuesday before Kornreich for a preliminary conference. While Silberkleit’s speaking engagements at the three schools have been canceled, she’s still scheduled to appear Saturday at Carol and John’s Comics in Cleveland.
The judge’s decision is reprinted in its entirety below.