Veronica v. Jugheads?

July 11, 2011 – Veronica would never work here.

The New York Daily News reports that Archie Comic Publications is suing co-Chief Executive Officer Nancy Silberkleit  for alleged bullying.  Silberkleit says the company is best by jugheads resistant to female supervision.

Meanwhile, Oregon.Live.com published an article in last year quoting Silberkleit, a former third grade art teacher, as stating she was stunned by the old boys’ network she encountered upon assuming the post of co-CEO following the 2009 death of her husband, Michael Silberkleit, the son of an original co-founder of the company, Louis Silberkleit.

“I’m a mother coming into a very male-oriented business,” Silberkleit told Oregon Live. “I’m not getting any support. I felt very alone.”

The lawsuit seeks to bar Silberkleit from the company’s Westchester, NY,  headquarters and to stop her from representing the company at Comic Con International later this month in San Diego.

The lawsuit alleges Silberkleit  is a foul-mouthed tyrant prone to outbursts about male genitalia and that several employees are fearful of her “erratic” behavior and bullying.

Several employees allegedly complained about Silberkleit’s antics, including an incident in 2010 in which she is said to have asked if sex toys were stored in an office safe, adding, “I need to adjust my balls.”

In April 2010,  Silberkleit is said to have walked into a meeting  “and referring to a book yelled out ‘PENIS, PENIS, PENIS, PENIS”” and then said, “My balls hurt.”

Her co-CEO is Jon Goldwater, the son of another co-founder of the company, John L. Goldwater. The company was founded in 1939.

Complacent Employer Hit With $95 Million Award

Note:  On July 7, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge J.  Michael Reagan granted Aarons’ motion to reduce the compensatory damages award for Alford’s Title VII sexual harassment claim pursuant to the statutory cap from $4 million  to $300,000.00 and the Court vacated the $50 million punitive damages award. Title VII authorizes the award of both compensatory and punitive damages but provides a cap on the total amount of damages recoverable based on employer size. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.   Reagan states in his opinion: “The Court notes that this remittitur results solely from the statutory cap and is not an expression of the Court’s opinion or the reasonableness of the jury verdict as to Count XII.”

East St. Louis, IL –A federal jury has awarded $95 million to a young woman who alleged she was the victim of a campaign of sexual  harassment and assault by a supervisor at  one of 1,800 stores operated by the rent-to-own company, The Aaron’s Inc.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on June 10, 2011 that the jury in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Illinois awarded the woman, Ashley Alford,  $95 million in compensation, including $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages.  A cap on damages in federal sexual harassment cases will reduce the award to about $41.6 million.  A spokesperson for Aaron’s said the award does not accurately reflect the evidence in the case and Aaron’s plans to appeal.

The Aaron chain’s entire profit in 2010 was $118 million.

Alford’s attorney, David S. Ratner, said the award could be an all-time record for an individual plaintiff in  sexual harassment case.

Alford, who is in her mid-20s, began work as a customer service representative at the store in 2005. She said her supervisor, the store’s then-general manager, Richard Moore, engaged in a year-long escalating campaign of sexual harassment, beginning with crude sexual jokes and  ending with assault.

In the fall of 2006, Alford alleged, Moore sneaked up behind her as she was sitting on the floor of the stockroom and hit her on the head with his penis. In another incident,  Moore  allegedly threw Alford to the ground, lifted her shirt and masturbated over her as he held her down. Moore  is awaiting trial on a criminal charge related to the accusations in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

It appears that Aaron’s was complacent. Alford called a company harassment hotline in May 2006, but an investigator never contacted her.  At some point after the call, the suit claims, she was approached by Moore’s supervisor, who confronted her in front of Moore about his alleged harassment and warned Moore to “watch his back” because of the complaint.

In their verdict, jurors found that Moore had assaulted and battered Alford, and found Aaron’s liable for “negligent supervision,” ‘sexual harassment” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

In a press release, Chad Strickland, Vice President of Associate Resources for Aaron’s, Inc., said Moore’s alleged acts “are not only completely inconsistent with everything our Company believes in and stands for, but are also far outside the scope of his employment and were never condoned by the Company.”

According to its web site,  “Over 55 million households across North America know and trust the Aaron’s name. Aaron’s, Inc. New York Stock Exchange ticker symbols are AAN and AANA.”

Aaron’s stock was down .04 percent on June 13, 2011.

 

A Matter of Personal Space

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on Oct. 6, 2010 in the case of Vera v. McHugh that a supervisor’s allegedly intentional encroachment on a subordinate’s personal space was severe and pervasive enough to constitute sexual harassment under Title VII.

The plaintiff , a U.S. Army soldier, shared a small office with her male supervisor.  She  alleged that for three months he stared at her,  sat very close to her,  made it difficult for her to leave the office and called her “babe” on one occasion. She alleged that he enjoyed her discomfort, and would smirk at her reaction to his behavior.

The First Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for the Army, remanding the matter for jury trial. The court ruled the plaintiff alleged sufficiently severe and pervasive conduct to constitute a violation of Title VII if proven.

Federal courts take different positions with regard to the level of severity necessary to constitute a hostile work environment and sexual harassment under Title VII.

The First Circuit includes U.S. District Courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island.

The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.