TapouT lost a pretty big wrongful termination lawsuit last week when a Los Angeles jury awarded Michelle Thomas $2.4 million in punitive damages and $840,000 in compensatory damages after she was fired in June 2008. Thomas alleged that she wasn’t paid commissions she was owed and wasn’t compensated for overtime hours that she was forced to work. Additionally, she alleged that former TapouT president Marc Kreiner intentionally inflicted emotional distress by going on “unprovoked rampages” and hurling insults at her and her co-workers.
Kreiner yelled and screamed at plaintiff, hurling insults and false accusations at her, in order to humiliate and frighten her into quitting to avoid paying her wages owed and to stop her from complaining about unpaid wages.
Kreiner frequently came onto the sales floor, where plaintiff was working, and went on unprovoked rampages, in which he would act violently and belligerently. He did so in the presence of the entire sales staff and directed such conduct at Thomas and, on occasion, other employees.
Kreiner called Thomas an ‘idiot’ and accused her of being ‘unqualified’ for her job, ‘incompetent’ as a salesperson, and ‘ignorant’ because she complained about defendants’ illegal activities.
Kreiner frequently became physically violent at work, throwing objects across the office and gesturing violently, in an effort to intimate and scare plaintiff Thomas.
Kreiner, frequently and in an extremely hostile and confrontational manner, accused plaintiff and other salespersons of not selling enough product or not watching enough ‘ultimate fighting’ on their own time, regardless of, and without any knowledge of, how much a given employee was selling and regardless of how much ultimate fighting a salesperson watched during his or her free time.
This specific case may be behind them, but that doesn’t mean TapouT is done dealing with wrongful termination suits. Hot on the heels of last week’s ruling comes news that another former employee has filed suit against TapouT (among others including Zuffa), alleging wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress and several other claims. And not surprisingly, former VP of Sales Lee Lemon’s allegations sound awfully similar to Ms. Thomas’.
Most of Lemon’s allegations are focused on former Tapout President Marc Kreiner, who Lemon claims abused the sales staff, allegedly calling them “f–kng worthless” and telling Lemon that he was “stupid, incompetent, and ignorant,” and that Kreiner could “hire a monkey to do his job.” Lemon also alleges that he was promised $400,000 per year in pay, but was never paid that amount. Instead, he argues, he was not paid the commissions he was owed, was berated constantly, falsely accused of firing employees without approval, blamed for salary cuts, and then directed to “defraud investors … by inflating the sales numbers and at the same time hiding accounts, to engage in thefts from licenses” before he was “constructively terminated” in May of 2010. (Under California law, constructive termination essentially requires the plaintiff to show that they resigned or quit because their working conditions were so intolerable that no reasonable person could be expected to endure them.)
To my understanding, Lemon’s case is different from Ms. Thomas’ in that he signed a settlement agreement when he left the company that would bar him from making future legal claims against TapouT in exchange for money, however Lemon claims that agreement is now null and void for several reasons. I assume that will be a point of contention when the two sides present their arguments.
I’m not gonna lie, these cases baffle me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not siding with TapouT or Mark Kreiner and I completely understand suing them for unpaid wages, but I don’t understand how a jury can award someone $2.4 million in punitive damages for essentially having to deal with an a–hole boss for eight months. Heck, I heard worse on the first day of my first job out of college and put up with it for almost two years, but never once did I think I was entitled to millions of dollars, or any money for that matter. He eventually got fired and that was good enough for me. When I think of “emotional distress” worthy of millions of dollars in compensation, I think of something life changing, an experience so damaging it adversely alters a person’s emotional state for at least a good part of their life. Being belittled, intimidated and threatened at work doesn’t fit that description if you ask me.