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Overthought Bubble #23: DC's Silence May Be Indicative of Legal Implications

Written by Gavin D. on Friday, May 06 2016 and posted in Columns

Overthought Bubble #23: DC's Silence May Be Indicative of Legal Implications

Aside from complications with HR regulations, a larger threat could be the reason for DC's silence.

Ah, harassment. The pastime of comic book creators and editors everywhere is a storied tradition that dates back to perhaps the dawn of comics themselves, and so when Eddie Berganza was named in April as an alleged member of this not-so-exclusive club, it was really no surprise that a man alleged to be a serial harasser had made their home near the top of one of the Big Two comic companies. Yet what is different about this situation is the current swirl of exposure and demands that now surrounds DC Comics. The issue has received a steady stream of coverage, slowly climbing the food chain of comics websites. It's two weeks later, and there has been no public statement made by DC Comics regarding these accusations, or these, or these, or these. Me? I'm not holding my breath for a statement because this situation is a bit different than previous harassment allegations and could have wider-reaching, more substantial legal implications for DC.

In October of last year, Scott Allie, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse, was demoted due to allegedly sexually assaulting a writer at a bar during San Diego Comic-Con, or at least was demoted coincidentally close to when the story was about to break. The demotion moved Allie from Editor-in-Chief to Executive Senior Editor. Well, we think it was a demotion. It's hard to tell. While the demotion/title change may not have been the punishment that everyone wanted, the storm of online protest eventually faded. The chaos at Dark Horse comics was quelled in part due to the company addressing it, albeit in a dismissive manner which threw shade at Janelle Asselin for having the nerve to hold people to a standard of decency. And despite reports from former editors that they still haven't actually resolved the deeper issues the company has, as far as coverage of the issue goes, put the whole thing behind themThis was a best case scenario for Dark Horse, and it may be what DC is hoping will happen.

Of course if peace were just an obligatory apology away, then why not issue a statement? The problem there lies in the allegations. The allegations against Berganza do not just involve Berganza sexually assaulting a woman. The allegations involve DC attempting to prevent another instance by knowingly not hiring women to work under Berganza. To do so would be a discriminatory hiring practice. When Rich Johnston asked DC about this, they didn't outright deny it. They just said that there were other offices without women. Issuing a statement would involve acknowledging those allegations further. If they didn't, they could have issued a statement saying "We are unable to comment on this matter," and Comic Book Resources would have run it no questions asked. People could then be talking about the legality DC deals with in addressing an alleged incident which they have already addressed.

Why not dismiss the case so? I'm not completely sure, but I can say this. If DC acknowledged the allegations against Berganza they would also have to acknowledge the allegations against themselves. Allegations that they participated in an illegal practice of not hiring women for that office. If there is any merit to the claims, then the company could face serious legal issues and a substantial loss of money. To quote the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Some could dismiss the idea that DC doesn't hire women to work with Berganza, pointing to the rare instances in which a woman is working on a book from the Superman office. But these were freelancers, never having to be in the office in order to complete their work. Meanwhile, there have been no women editing for the Superman office during the alleged period of time. While it sounds absurd that something like this could happen, it has been confirmed by Heidi MacDonald, a journalist even Dan Slott cannot disrespect.

Of course the most significant evidence is the creators who have themselves been at DC Comics. Janelle Asselin, who used to be an editor at DC, has said that this was set in place through the workplace culture, and her claims were reiterated last week. On his podcast, former DC Comics writer Brian Keene said the following:

Now a lot of people are saying that, they're calling into question Alex's report that no women were allowed to work under Berganza. I myself can verify that when I was freelancing for DC I was told by two different editors. That the Berganza quarantine was in fact a real thing and that women were not allowed to work in the Superman office. And they told this because I was trying to get Rachel Deering a gig writing for DC comics, and suggested her for Wonder Woman.

"Oh no no, she'll never get Wonder Woman."

"Why is that?"

"Well because Eddie Berganza."

Having a rule like that written would be insane, but if what Keene alleges is true, then DC Comics may as well have written "No Girls Allowed" outside the Superman office door. These allegations imply a work place culture where Berganza was worth more than fair hiring practices. Such a workplace culture may exist if Keene's next comments are also true:

There's something I want to point out... Eddie Berganza is not the only DC executive that has been accused of similar indiscretions. Now I know that none of the others have been named publicly, at least to the best of my knowledge. So we're not gonna do that here, but there are DC executive who have been accused of similar indiscretions. This is a problem that is a problem that is systemic. It is systemic to all parts of the world... But comic books are so g**damn seedy, man. And it always has been.

These allegations reiterate what has long been suspected and reported. The comics industry has a case of systemic harassment and sexism. This is not a DC exclusive issue either. De Campi speaks of problems at Marvel in her September 2015 tumblr post. The reason you may not hear much about Marvel is potentially due to the contracts that creators must sign.

Berganza is not likely to be going anywhere under current management anywhere under current management. Former DC editor Janelle Asselin says the company has known about Berganza's alleged behavior, and they made their decision. They want to keep him. The only way to remove Berganza would be to remove the current publishers, and DC has doubled down on Didio, Johns, and Lee. Despite months of weak earnings relative to Marvel's 40% market share, DC's lead three are standing strong and "rebirthing" the DC universe once again. The only way I expect Berganza to go, is to change the publishers, and the only way they could go is if there is indisputable evidence that the company has participated in discriminatory hiring practices. If that evidence emerges, then look for three scapegoats to start mailing out their resumes.

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