Ellen’s Story: by Ron Estefan (’05) and Gene Shioda (’08)
It is December, 2005. Ellen lives in Florida and works as a sales representative for a bridal designer store there. A friend calls Ellen to let her know about a General Manager opening at a bridal gown manufacturer in a Houston suburb. She would have to move there. Ellen’s dream job. But Ellen is conflicted. She is a single mother in Florida with a daughter in her junior year in high school. Ellen talks with her daughter about it and her daughter says “Mom, this is what you’ve always wanted. Dad lives just a few miles away. I’ll stay with him.” Ellen flies to Houston to meet with the owners of the company. They offer her the job. She will be the General Manager and her supervisors will be the owners of the company.
Ellen starts working for the company in January, 2006. The first six months go great. Then, things start to change. The owners start making subtle sexual comments to her. Maybe this will stop she thinks to herself. Besides, to whom can I complain? But it doesn’t stop. Does it escalates in ways the owners can say to Ellen “You’re being too sensitive and Don’t you know we were just kidding around?”
The owners, sexual comments, practical jokes, and actions continue to escalate for 3 more years. Ellen deals with these by deflecting them so as not to anger her bosses and get fired. She makes a joke in response whenever she can or tries to laugh them off. Finally, she can’t take it anymore. She quits. It’s the only way she can make it stop. She would have let it go at that.
Two and a half months after she is forced to quit, the owners sue Ellen claiming she committed slander per se against them, breached her fiduciary duties, disparaged their business and was negligent. That is the last straw. Ellen hires Gene Shioda, TLC ’08. Gene calls me and asks if I want to co-counsel Ellen’s case AND file counterclaims against the owners for what they did to Ellen. We file an Answer and counterclaims for sexual harassment, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault. For the next 4 ½ years we litigate, surviving two case-dispositive motions.
We get to trial in January, 2014. The company and its owners parade witness after witness into the courtroom. These people all tell the jury horrible things about Ellen. Except none of it is true. But how does Ellen prove that when the other side has a dozen witnesses and she has just herself?
The jury charge is 67 questions. It takes the judge nearly 2 hours to read the charge to our jury. Our jury deliberates all day. At 6:30 Friday evening our jury comes back into the courtroom, announces they have reached a verdict and the presiding juror gives the bailiff the charge. The judge reads the charge and the answers. Every one of the owners, claims is answered ‘No.’ Ellen’s claims for sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress are answered ‘Yes.’ The jury awards Ellen money. Vindication and justice, at last!