Pregnant executive claims discrimination
San Francisco Chronicle, August 18, 2000
Section: Business Section, page B1
Source: Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writer
In the latest embarrassment for Oracle, a San Francisco jury ruled that the high-tech company wrongfully fired a vice president because she was five months pregnant and she blew the whistle on co-workers who illegally ripped off parts of a German software program.
The Superior Court jury Wednesday awarded Sandy Baratta $2.7 million - about $2 million in canceled stock options, $300,000 in lost wages and $200,000 for emotional distress. The jury declined to award punitive damages.
"We're delighted," said her attorney, Alan Exelrod.
Oracle, however, insisted that Baratta, 39, was fired because she mistreated her staff. For instance, the company argued that Baratta ordered an underling to send an e-mail to a manager pleading to let Baratta keep a group of employees who were slated to be transferred.
"Oracle intends to challenge the verdict . . . and believes there is a high likelihood the verdict will not be allowed to stand," said Jennifer Glass, a spokeswoman for the Redwood Shores database software company.
Regardless, the verdict is just the latest setback for Oracle.
A month ago, the company was caught using gumshoes to investigate groups tied to its longtime rival, Microsoft. And days after that, the firm's venerated No. 2 executive, Ray Lane, abruptly resigned after the company's colorful chief executive, Larry Ellison, tightened his grip on the firm and stripped Lane of many of his duties.
And at least two other Oracle executives recently sued the company for wrongful termination:
- Randy Baker, 55, a former executive vice president, claimed Oracle fired him just six months before retirement without cause, stripping him roughly of $16 million in stock options. His attorney cited age discrimination as a possible reason. The case is pending in San Francisco Superior Court.
- Oracle Vice President Pier Carlo Falotti claimed he was fired without any official explanation just four days before his 410 million in stock options were about to vest, Cnet reported. Falotti ran Oracle's Europe, Middle East and Africa operations from an office in Switzerland. He was a member of Oracle's executive management committee.
Wall Street, however, has shrugged off the lawsuits. Shares jumped 42.75 yesterday to $83.94. The stock is up 49 percent this year and 349 percent over the past year.
In Baratta's case, she said Oracle suddenly fired her over the telephone on April 30, 1999, just before she boarded a plane at San Francisco International Airport to meet with German softwaremaker SAP.
The day before, Baratta complained to her boss that she believed Oracle's software group had lifted parts of SAP's R/3 software product, business software that includes accounting software and so-called "customer relations management" software to let salespeople track orders.
Specifically, Baratta claimed she learned that Oracle's CRM group may have had improper access to confidential portions of the SAP program through an Oracle worker based at SAP's headquarters in Germany.
Oracle and SAP are fierce competitors in some software markets, but a few Oracle teams work in concert with SAP on the condition that they not leak trade secrets to other parts of the company.
Baratta testified that she alerted Gary Bloom, who reports to Ellison, that someone may have violated the confidentiality pledge, and was promptly fired. SAP declined comment.
In addition, Baratta also testified that Oracle retaliated against her for complaining about remarks Bloom made about other pregnant executives before he knew that Baratta was pregnant.
Baratta was a vice president of global alliances at the time she was let go. During the trial, she was working as a consultant for New Moon, a San Jose startup.
Legal experts said the case is somewhat unusual because most cases are settled or dismissed long before they reach trial. The judgment was also larger than average for an employment discrimination case, apparently because of the large stock option package involved. Baratta earned about $350,000 a year.