Heroine or Hooker? - Sexual Harassment Case

The Story:

Our firm was contacted by the senior partner of a law firm in San Francisco that had just been retained in a sexual harassment matter. The married male CFO of a large brokerage firm in the San Francisco / Bay Area had been accused of sexual harassment by a female employee of the firm, who was of Asian descent. She alleged that he had taken her to lunches, dinners and outside social activities. This had led to sexual relations, a relationship, promises of his leaving his spouse, then broken promises and a broken heart. She further alleged that she had become despondent and depressed. She went to a therapist who counseled her and directed her to a plaintiff's lawyer. The plaintiff's case, stated simply, was that "the CFO, a wealthy white WASP had used the power of his office, his wealth and his influence to charm, use and discard a porcelain doll".

No legal action had yet been taken, although plaintiff's counsel had spoken several times with our client (the attorney). We discussed some strategies and agreed that, initially, we needed to simply establish the facts. Our investigator suggested an in-depth background investigation on the plaintiff. That was agreed to, and we began the inquiry.

We did what we do in all cases, which is to find out who the players are, which means for us, getting ALL the data. One thing that stood out as we began to gather information was the fact that the plaintiff's stated salary, which was $75,000, was inconsistent with where she lived. People at the office thought she rented an apartment in The Avenues, a modest area but, in fact, she owned a home near the Marina, where property values are much higher.

This of course, was an interesting item, so our investigator, Nic Smith, decided to find out a bit more. He went down to the home address in the Marina and chatted with the neighbors. They told him that her comings and goings from the house, apart from her work hours of 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. were unusual. Different vehicles were seen going into the garage late at night. The drivers of the vehicles would stay for a couple of hours, then leave. The neighbors also related that they heard lots of "moans and groans (the good kind)" when these cars were there. Other than that, they knew nothing about the "Chinese woman" who lived there.

Early morning surveillance revealed that the plaintiff did indeed live there, and that she left promptly for work in the morning, stopping at a small café for a latte to go.

We then placed the residence under surveillance for one week and were able to identify several wealthy men, of different ethnicities, who visited the plaintiff for two to three hours in the evening, almost every night. It was clear that she was either a very social person or she was hooking.

Deciding to play his "hunch" that it was the latter, and having worked criminal defense before, Nic wondered if she was also involved in pornography. At the time of this case, the pornography industry was not as well "organized" as it is now, and there were many "part-time" producers who used as their movie set a suite in a classy hotel. They were the B movie producers of the "industry." After lots of phone calls, lots of meetings and lots of talking, Nic finally found the producer of a movie that the plaintiff had " worked in." He persuaded him to give him the date and location of the shoot. Then, he went to the hotel that was the location for the shoot and persuaded them to give him a copy of the hotel registration information for the day in question.

As icing on the cake, the movie producer had a copy of the film he had shot and was kind enough to "comp" Nic with a copy.

Nic returned to his client, the attorney for the CFO accused of sexual harassment, and filled him in. The attorney was able to arrange a meeting with the plaintiff's counsel at which he showed a brief clip of the video. Because the CFO was married and very afraid that this whole matter, if litigated, would cause his downfall, the plaintiff and defendant were able to reach a mutually acceptable settlement in the matter.

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