Remember how Barnes & Noble fired CEO Demos Parneros for unspecified violations of company policy that (B&N said) didn’t involve financial matters? The other shoe has now dropped: Parneros has sued B&N for wrongful termination, breach of contract, and defamation of character.

Details that emerged in the suit included the fact that B&N was in negotiations to sell out to another bookseller, but the negotiations failed in June. Parneros alleges that after the deal fell through, B&N chairman Len Riggio felt he no longer had a graceful exit strategy from the company, and the only way it could survive was if he once again took the reins himself. So he stopped talking to Parneros, became hostile toward him, and (Parneros alleges) trumped up charges to get him fired.

A statement from B&N’s board characterizes the suit as “an attempt to extort money from the Company by a CEO who was terminated for sexual harassment, bullying behavior and other violations of company policies” and claims it’s all a pack of “lies and mischaracterizations.” It’s notable that this is the first time anyone at B&N has gotten any more specific about exactly what those violations of company policies included since Parneros was fired in July.

Parneros’s suit comes replete with allegations that Riggio himself was the real bully, including quotes of him talking trash about the prior CEO Ron Boire and B&N CFO Allen Lindstrom, and making sexist remarks about an unnamed VP of Marketing. All I can say is, there’s not enough popcorn in the world for this, and I predict it will be great fun to spectate.

Is this going to be the straw that breaks B&N’s back? It’s already been called out for stagnating and not doing enough to try to keep up with the times, and publishers are notably unhappy about the game of musical CEO chairs it’s playing. Now come the legal fees from defending this suit, to add another element of financial strain. Is there even going to be a B&N left in a year?

There’s also the matter of the unnamed other book retailer that was in talks to buy B&N. Any guesses who it might have been? I think I’d put my money on Books a Million, which is just about the only other US bookstore chain left of any great size, though it’s more of a regional chain than a national one. BAMM already sells Nook devices and ebooks itself, so owning the technology would be a smart move if it wants more control over the ebook platform—plus the B&N stores in other regions would allow BAMM to go national itself.

In any case, the book retailing world just got a little more interesting today. I can’t wait to see what happens next.


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