Barnes & Noble CEO fired for allegedly standing behind secretary

Sexual harassment is a real problem in the workplace.  At least, it used to be.  It's become so weaponized now that trivial complaints are being mixed in with the real thing.  That seems to be the case in the firing of Barnes & Noble CEO Demos Parneros.  He claimed he was fired on trumped up sexual harassment charges so Barnes & Noble could get rid of him without paying several millions in severance, and he's suing for defamation and breach of contract.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Parneros said he was called into Mr. Riggio's office weeks before his firing and told about complaints from an executive assistant.

According to the lawsuit, the assistant had said that, during a conversation about her vacation to Canada, Mr. Parneros had characterized a hotel he had visited with his wife as the kind of place where "you would put out."  Mr. Parneros said he disputed the claim, saying that he had described the hotel as charming and romantic.

He also countered a complaint from the assistant that, during a conversation about which person was taller, he had stood back to back with her.  He said that they had only stood side to side, with no inappropriate touching.

Mr. Riggio had indicated that he did not consider the incidents to be too serious, according to the lawsuit.  But Mr. Parneros said he wanted to apologize, and brought a company representative with him to meet with the assistant.

According to the suit, all parties, including Mr. Riggio, agreed that the meeting went well, and the assistant said that she did not want to make a big deal out of the situation and did not want to transfer to a different position.

Assuming that Parneros is relaying the allegations accurately, he is accused of:

1. Saying he went to a hotel that is so nice that people have sex there.

2. Standing back to back with his secretary (what "executive assistants" used to be called), perhaps touching her back with his back.

This makes a mockery of real sexual harassment, where women are pressured for sex or touched inappropriately in the workplace.  The feminists' misuse of this claim has cast doubt on the whole sexual harassment crusade – how much of it is real (like Harvey Weinstein), and how much of it is smoke?

I suspect, from cases like this, that much of it is smoke.  It probably makes employers more hesitant to hire women for fear of lawsuits.

You can almost see the chip on the shoulder of the secretary who lodged this complaint.  The worst Parneros seems to have done is make a tasteless comment about someone else, not the secretary, having sex in a hotel, and touching her back with his back.  The fact that Parneros felt he had to apologize with a company representative as a witness shows how weaponized even trivial claims of harassment have become.

Ed Straker is the senior editor of the Newsmachete Twitter Feed.

Image: Mike Mozart via Flickr.

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