Documents reveal chaos at Archie

Silberkleit-2

The Mamaroneck Review has learned of more behind-the-scenes chaos at Archie Comics allegedly caused by co-CEO and Rye mayoral candidate Nancy Silberkleit. The co-head of the Mamaroneck-based comic book publishing company is the focal point of a lawsuit filed Sept. 30 by six Archie Comics employees seeking $32.5 million in damages. File photo

By LIZ BUTTON
and JASON CHIREVAS
Documents obtained by The Mamaroneck Review detail new revelations about the in-office behavior of Rye mayoral candidate Nancy Silberkleit, painting a very different picture of the Archie Comics co-CEO than the one she’s tried to cultivate during the campaign.

Silberkleit was sued for $32.5 million by six of the Mamaroneck-based comic book publisher’s employees on Sept. 30.

According to a May 2013 report from HR Innovations, LLC, a human resources firm with which Archie Comics contracted in 2010, Silberkleit actively avoided participation in the investigation of a complaint alleging sexual harrassment and employment discrimination she herself made in April 2013.

The main target of Silberkleit’s complaint was Samuel Levitin—her friend of 40 years and hand-picked liaison to Archie’s other co-CEO, Jon Goldwater—who Silberkleit accused of harassing her in her Archie office.

Levitin was Silberkleit’s choice to interact with Gold­water and the rest of Archie on her behalf after dueling 2011 lawsuits between Silberkleit and Goldwater were settled in 2012. One of the conditions of that settlement was a memorandum of understanding in which Silberkleit’s duties at Archie were severely limited and she was barred from having any contact with any Archie employee other than Goldwater or her own assistant beyond saying hello.

In her April complaint to HR Innovations, Silberkleit claimed she was subjected to “employment discrimination, sexual harassment and hostile work environment” during her employment at Archie, caused in part by the actions of Levitin, who she said suggested she get breast implants and told her she was “in the wrong bed.”

Interviews with Levitin and Archie employees documented in the report suggested no harassment, sexual or otherwise, took place on Levitin’s part and the comments described by Silberkleit in her complaint were taken out of context.

Silberkleit also accused Levitin of interfering in her personal finances by representing her to Wells Fargo, with whom Silberkleit was negotiating a home refinance.

The investigation provided emails between Silberkleit and Wells Fargo representatives proving conclusively she, in fact, asked Levitin to communicate with the bank on her behalf.

Investigator Myrna Sessa’s report speculates Silberkleit may have been motivated to file a complaint against Levitin after he initiated legal action earlier this year to have her removed from the Michael Silberkleit trust—of which a 50 percent stake in Archie Comics is the principal asset—citing her inability to effectively function within the company.

The Sept. 30 lawsuit accuses Silberkleit of using gender discriminatory language, making sexual and inappropriate jokes that made others uncomfortable, coercing an employee of the company to spy on others, yelling and frequently threatening employees’ jobs.

Many aspects of the complaint are extensions of those levied at Silberkleit by Goldwater and others in the 2011 case.

Archie Comics office manager Debbie Monserrate, one of the six plaintiffs in the new case against Silberkleit, said people often ask her why she does not quit if Silberkleit’s alleged intimidating and inappropriate behavior makes her so miserable. She said everyone at Archie feels the same about Silberkleit, but “unfortunately, we like it here.”

“She’s the only one,” Mon­serrate said. “One hundred percent of the staff” have a problem with Silberkleit.

Archie stock is not safe from Silberkleit either, according to Monserrate.

In the past, employees have found merchandise unaccounted for and suspect Silberkleit of taking home books, comics and other stock for personal use or to give out at her own speaking events.

Since, according to Mon­serrate, Silberkleit refuses to go through the proper company protocol for obtaining permission to take Archie stock, anything she might try to remove from the office‑from comics to hardcover coffee table books to cardboard cutouts of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica‑is now kept in a large, locked cage typically used for valuable, historical or non-inventoried items.

Monserrate said that, from what she can observe, Silberkleit honestly believes she is a victim in the situation and tells as many people as possible, constantly searching for alleged abusive behavior to report.

Although logic would suggest Silberkleit, if she felt she was the subject of harassment and employment discrimination, would cooperate with the human resources investigation she demanded though her attorney, James L. Hyer, Sessa’s report documents the investigator found the opposite to be the case.

The report shows Silberkleit tried mightily to avoid meeting with Sessa about her accusations against Levitin during the month of May, rejecting 10 different proposed meeting dates until finally agreeing to an eleventh  on May 29. Emails between Sessa and Silberkleit dated May 26 and May 28 obtained by The Mamaroneck Review corroborate Sessa’s difficulty arranging to meet with Silberkleit, who attempted to add a stipulation to the meeting in which she would only meet with Sessa if another human resources professional was present.

Sessa rejected that condition out of hand.

Silberkleit said she could not comment on the content of the HR reports because they are part of current litigation, though she has not read the May 2013 report in detail.

When it comes to interviewees chosen for the May 2013 report, Silberkleit said, “I have had great staff who worked with me. They were never looked at by [HR Innovations].”

The May 2013 HR report details Silberkleit’s request that Sessa interview several former Archie employees and consultants because Silberkleit believed they may have met Levitin or heard him speak with her. Sessa concluded the people Silberkleit suggested were “not germane to the investigation.”

“Their input (from what Nancy advised) would not provide any relevant information as to sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace,” Sessa said in her report.

Based on interviews with 13 current Archie staff members, one former employee and Levitin, Sessa’s report suggests Silberkleit’s behavior worsened after she returned to the office in June 2012, following the settlement with Goldwater, and was forced to work under the terms of the memorandum of understanding she signed with the company that limited her scope of influence.

“I consider Nancy Silberkleit’s approach to interpersonal communications to be confrontational, combative, demanding and repetitive,” Sessa reported in her final write-up. “I believe the issues raised in Nancy Silberkleit’s April 26, 2013, complaint of gender discrimination have a basis in that demeanor.”

An Archie employee who wished to remain anonymous offered another possible motivation for Silberkleit’s behavior since her return to the company.

“It is revenge [against Goldwater] that is burning inside of her. That’s one of her strongest motivations,” the employee said.

For the employee, the Silberkleit situation at Archie is bigger than one person’s in-office behavior.

“Archie is an American icon,” the employee said. “She is trying to destroy the company or she’s trying to take it over and use it for her own purposes.”
CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com,
                   jason@hometwn.com

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About Liz Button

Liz Button is a staff reporter for Hometown Media Group’s The Rye Sound Shore Review. Previously, she covered Bedford and Mount Kisco for The Daily Voice, an Internet-based, hyperlocal publication. She’s also written for Patch in her hometown of Trumbull, Conn., as a freelance reporter and fill-in editor. Preceding her time there, she worked in publishing in New York City. She is a 2008 graduate of Bowdoin College with a degree in English. Reach Liz at 914-653-1000 x20 or liz@hometwn.com; follow her on Twitter @ryesoundshore.