In the latest twist in a bitter two-year legal drama, six Archie Comics employees -- among them Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick -- have filed a $32.5 million lawsuit against embattled Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit, accusing her of "destructive, dangerous and at times deranged behavior" that not only has caused them mental anguish and emotional distress, but threatens to cause the collapse of the publisher.
The 29-page lawsuit, filed Monday in Westchester County, New York, and first reported by the New York Post, also seeks a permanent injunction removing Silberkleit from Archie's Mamaroneck offices and barring her from having any contact with the plaintiffs or their families.
That will likely sound familiar to anyone who's followed accounts of the turmoil within the nearly 75-year-old company, which erupted into the public eye in July 2011, when Archie filed a lawsuit against Silberkleit, accusing her of bullying and sexually harassing employees. That set the stage for a bitter legal showdown between Silberkleit and her Co-CEO Jon Goldwater for control of the company that seemingly ended in June 2012 with a confidential agreement in which a restraining order against Silberkleit was lifted, everyone returned to their corners, and the two parties undertook "beginning their working relationship anew."
However, the first signs the feud might not be resolved came within months, when Silberkleit's longtime friend Sam Levitin, who served as her liaison with Archie following the lawsuit, sought to have her removed as a company trustee, asserting "she lacks functional communication skills and has an unstable temperament." Silberkleit responded by first seeking to have Levitin fired because of "unwelcome advances" -- a firm hired by Archie found the claim baseless -- and then by filing a sexual-harassment lawsuit.
The employee lawsuit, in which Archie veteran Gorelick is joined by Mike Pellereto, Debbie Monserrate, Jim Paget, Jonathan Gray and David Feliciano, rehashes many claims from earlier filings and hearings, ranging from the often-repeated allegation that Silberkleit interrupted a meeting and pointed to each of the four men in the room, shouting "PENIS, PENIS, PENIS, PENIS!" to a pattern of harassment and intimidation. One of the plaintiffs, Paget, asserts that while he was hired early this year as Silberkleit's assistant -- well after her dispute with Goldwater was supposedly resolved --Â he was asked to serve as her spy and dig up "dirt" on other employees. Paget, who claims he begged Silberkleit not to ask him lie, was eventually dismissed from his position; he's now an archivist for Archie.
In the complaint, which is peppered liberally with words like "deranged" and "dangerous," the employees assert that in a "destructive, deceitful and deliberate manner," Silberkleit "seeks [...] her self-promotion as the effective 'Dictator' over Archie Comics or in default of that, the demise of this iconic publication in American culture."
Charging that Silberkleit's association with the company will result in its "complete collapse," the employees call the lawsuit "a last resort and effort to save Archie Comics from the downfall that will result from defendant's continued involvement."
Silberkleit is the widow of Michael Silberkleit, the son of Archie co-founder Louis Silberkleit. Her Co-CEO Jon Goldwater is the son of co-founder John L. Goldwater, and half-brother of Richard Goldwater. Michael Silberkleit died in 2007 and Richard Goldwater in 2008, leaving Nancy Silberkleit and Jon Goldwater as co-CEOs. By most accounts, it's been a difficult -- even untenable -- situation from the start, with Silberkleit, as disputed co-executor of her late husband's estate, controlling a 50-percent stake, while Goldwater owns 25 percent of the company's shares and represents the other 25 percent held by the estate of his late brother, leaving the board of directors deadlocked on many issues.
The employees, who note the irony of Silberkleit founding an anti-bullying campaign while being accused of bullying, want $7.5 million of the $32.5 million sought in the lawsuit to be used to establish an anti-bullying initiative.
Contributing Writer Brigid Alverson contributed to this story.