When bookseller Barnes & Noble fired its CEO Demos Parneros last month, the only explanation was that he had been let go for violating company policy. Now, Parneros has filed a lawsuit accusing the company of defamation and breach of contract. That led B&N to publicly clarify that the firing was partly in response to a sexual harassment complaint. Parneros claims the alleged sexual harassment complaint was pretextual, and that he had really been fired without warning after a deal to sell the bookseller fell through. He is seeking $4 million in severance, along with equity and damages.
Parneros's lawsuit revealed details that had not been disclosed by Barnes & Noble's board, although the sexual harassment complaint was played down, according to the New York Times. In one conversation with an executive assistant, he allegedly described a Quebec hotel he had visited as a place where "you would put out." He claims he merely described the hotel as charming and romantic.
The executive assistant allegedly also claimed that Parneros was inappropriate during a conversation about which of them was taller. She claims they stood back to back; he says they stood side by side with no inappropriate touching.
According to the lawsuit, Parneros, accompanied by a company representative, apologized to the assistant even though he had been told that the incidents weren't very serious. That meeting went well, he believed, with the assistant saying she preferred not to make a big deal of the situation and that she didn't want to transfer to another position. He was led to believe the issue was resolved.
According to a statement by Barnes & Noble, the board ordered an investigation into the complaints and that the investigation revealed "multiple examples of significant misconduct." As a result, the statement says, the board voted unanimously to fire Parneros.
The Times details a number of allegations Parneros made in an effort to explain his firing. Primarily, Parneros argues that he was fired for displeasing the chairman of Barnes & Noble's board, whose "erratic and unprofessional behavior" created an "abusive corporate culture."
Parneros was hired in the spring of 2017. He was the fourth non-interim chief executive at the company in just four years.
When a worker complains of sexual harassment, the company's first step is typically to investigate the claim. When a complaint is found credible, the company must take appropriate action or it can be held legally responsible for failing to provide a workplace free of discrimination. In many cases, the appropriate action will be to terminate the individual who is credibly accused.