Former Sales Executive Obtains $11.6 Million Verdict in Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

A former sales executive obtained a substantial verdict in May 2014 in a lawsuit against Microsoft, which accused the software company and a consultant of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and defamation. Mercieca v. Rummel, et al, No. D-1-GN-11-001030, third am. pet. (Tex. Dist. Ct., Travis Co., Apr. 12, 2013). He alleged a conspiracy to make false allegations of sexual harassment against him, which resulted in a hostile work environment and discriminatory treatment. The company then retaliated against him, eventually constructively terminating him, after he formally complained about the hostile work environment.

The plaintiff worked for Microsoft for 17 years in offices around the world. At the time of the events described in the lawsuit, he was a Senior Sales Executive in the company’s Austin, Texas office. He claimed that he had an excellent reputation within the company and had received multiple awards for sales performance, customer service, and service to the company.

In the fall of 2007, Lori Aulds was named Regional Sales Director, which made her the plaintiff’s direct supervisor. The two of them, according to the plaintiff, had a sexual relationship that ended several years prior to her promotion. She allegedly remarked about her current relationships to the plaintiff and tried to get him involved in disputes with her new significant other, despite his insistence that it made him uncomfortable.

In November 2009, an independent contractor named Tracey Rummel, who worked for Microsoft as a marketing consultant, allegedly told Aulds that the plaintiff had sexually harassed her. The plaintiff denied these allegations throughout the lawsuit. He claimed that Aulds began to “unduly scrutinize and criticize” his job performance and to treat him differently from other employees under her supervision, including withholding communications from the plaintiff’s customer accounts, withholding promised support for promotions, false accusations of irregularities in expenses and other matters, and meeting with his customers without his knowledge. He claimed that she tried to compel him to find another job while admitting that she “could not handle her relationship to [him] as his boss.”

Aulds allegedly reported Rummel’s allegations to the plaintiff’s upper management, who allegedly also began to subject him to disparate treatment and discrimination, including “disparaging comments” about his nation of origin. The plaintiff was born in England and is of Maltese ancestry. He filed an internal complaint against Aulds and other managers in April 2010, complaining of hostile work environment, harassment, and discrimination. Eighteen days later, Rummel filed a formal sexual harassment claim against him with the company. The plaintiff claims that the company conducted a bad-faith investigation of his complaint, and that it demoted him while promoting Aulds. He notified the company in February 2011 that it had constructively terminated him.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2011, named Microsoft and Rummel as defendants. It alleged that Rummel’s accusations constituted slander, and that actions of various Microsoft employees constituted conspiracy to slander. The plaintiff further alleged discrimination based on age, sex, and national origin in violation of state anti-discrimination laws, sexual harassment, retaliation, and invasion of privacy.

After a two-week trial, a jury found that both Rummel and Microsoft had defamed him, and that Microsoft had retaliated against him. It ordered Rummel to pay $10,000 in damages, and Microsoft to pay $11.6 million.

The Resnick Law Group’s employment attorneys advocate for the rights of employees in New Jersey and New York under state and federal law. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and see how we can help you, please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

Wrongful Termination May Expose Employers to Defamation Claims, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, July 22, 2014
Professor, After Denial of Tenure, Alleges Retaliation for Speaking Out in Support of Students’ Campaign Against Campus Sexual Assault, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, July 10, 2014
Teacher Sues New York School, Alleging Discrimination and Firing Based on Age, Marital Status, Sex, and Sexual Orientation, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, July 7, 2014

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