Demos Parneros, who was fired in July as Barnes & Noble’s chief executive, filed a lawsuit August 28, 2018, claiming defamation of character and breach of contract against the bookseller. 

In U.S. Southern District Court court documents, Parneros said Barnes & Noble had been fired without warning and had allowed rumors to persist that he was let go due to “serious sexual misconduct.”

The deposed executive vehemently denies any sexual impropriety and the female executive assistant involved in two incidents seen as harassment did not pursue any action against Parneros. The incidents, according to Parneros, had even been seen by Riggio as minor. Instead, Parneros believed he was fired in part after a deal to sell the company fell through. 

In one incident with an assistant, Parneros said he had stood side by side to the woman to prove who was tallest, while she said that they stood back to back. In another, the assistant said Parneros had described a Canadian hotel where he had gone with his wife as a place to”make out.” He claims he described the hotel as romantic. Neither incident, it appears, would have been considered gross misconduct. 

Riggio refused to pay Parneros $4 million in cash severance, plus equity and damages, the court papers said.  

There, Parneros described Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble’s chairman and largest shareholder in the company, a “volatile” leader who displays “erratic and unprofessional behavior.”

He also described Barnes & Noble as a “financially troubled business” that is in turmoil and disarray.

Barnes & Noble’s board responded to a report in the New York Times that Mr. Parneros had been “terminated for sexual harassment, bullying behavior and other violations of company policies.” Until Tuesday, the company had said only that he was terminated for violating policies, without further explanation except to say they were not related to financial matters.

Mr. Parneros’ statements to the court about the alleged misconduct, revealed details that Barnes & Noble had not disclosed.

He played down his interactions with an executive assistant who had made an internal complaint against him as “simply an innocuous, less than five-minute conversation about vacationing in Quebec.” Another impetus for his firing, he said, was his purported mistreatment of Allen W. Lindstrom, the company’s chief financial officer with whom Parneros shared executive duties along with a third executive. 

Mr. Lindstrom is one of three executives sharing chief executive duties until Mr. Parneros’ successor is found.

Barnes & Noble said in its statement to The Times that the allegations about Mr. Riggio “are replete with lies and mischaracterizations” and an example of Mr. Parneros being “someone who, instead of accepting responsibility for blatantly inappropriate behavior, is lashing out against a former employer.”

In the spring of 2017, Mr. Riggio brought Mr. Parneros on as the company’s leader, the fourth non-interim chief executive in four years, to try to bolster the bookseller’s flagging fortunes, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Parneros had worked for nearly three decades in various roles at the office supply chain Staples.

Mr. Riggio, who bought the company in 1971 when it was an ailing Manhattan bookstore and turned it into a national fleet of superstores, had planned to retire in 2016. But he stepped in as the acting chief executive after Barnes & Noble fired Ronald Boire, who had served as chief executive for less than a year.

The allegations lobbed in the suit are likely to make it even more difficult for Barnes & Noble to recruit its next chief executive, at a moment when the company desperately needs stable leadership, The Times said. 

[Read more about Mr. Riggio’s role at Barnes & Noble and how he responded to criticism in an interview with The New York Times.]

Even as independent bookstores have bounced back and Amazon has expanded into brick-and-mortar retail, Barnes & Noble has still failed to recover ground.