Today I read an interesting article about the Co-CEO of Archie Comics, Nancy Silberkleit who was recently sued for $32 million by 5 male employees. Silberkleit is accused of yelling “Penis! Penis! Penis!” during a business meeting and allegedly acting like “a dictator,” and a “bully,” and displaying “deranged behavior.” She contends her comments are not actionable because the plaintiff’s have not shown that the comments were directed specifically to any of them or even if they were, they could not cause extreme emotional distress.
Although this case is in its infancy, here are three reminders and lessons.
Reminder #1: Women can harass men. These types of cases are not as common as males harassing females. I can think of a couple of reasons why. First, while it takes courage for anyone to come forward with a claim of harassment, I believe it is magnified for men because of embarrassment and humiliation due to stereotypes of men being strong and not being “victims.” The second reason: what I call the “high-five syndrome”. This encompasses the view that men should be flattered by the attention, regardless of how unwanted or vulgar the conduct. This is not healthy or fair to men. Stop the stereotypes in your workplace.
Reminder #2: Keep #1 in mind when you investigate claims of harassment. Be fair and open-minded that the conduct could have been unwelcome and offensive even if female to male.
Reminder #3: Address female to male and same-sex harassment in your training. Make sure you create a safe and respectful environment so that everyone feels they can come to HR and make a complaint.
Also, what the Archie Comics’ case also reminds us about is bullying. While bullying is not yet unlawful in the US (watch out for NY and NJ, could be happening soon!), I recommend addressing this topic in your harassment training. A bully is only one little step away from being a harasser. If you would like a free anti-bullying policy – please shoot me an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org