Thursday, October 27, 2022

            That dubious case cobbled up around a business lunch at Hooters that never happened is over.  The plaintiff lost. Justice was done.

             The facts as found by the trial judge in late 2021 differed dramatically from the facts in online news accounts when the lawsuit was filed in early 2017.

             The media played up the Hooters angle. They all told essentially the same story the same way under the same suggestive headline: A business lunch at Hooters had excited complaints on the part of the plaintiff-executive, a retaliatory firing, and a lawsuit. They seemed to be acting in concert, doing no independent reporting, but only publishing a press release from the plaintiff’s attorney. Had there actually been a lunch at Hooters? No. But only one source reported on that, the Houston Chronicle, the hometown paper so to speak for the defendant, a German biotechnology company that had it American headquarters in Houston, Texas (Molecular Health Inc.).

             It did not add up. A job that was too good to be true had been gained and lost in 80 days. A middle-age stay-at-home-mom from small-town Minnesota was being paid $15,000.00 per month to work from home. That had been arranged by a regional vice president who became her immediate supervisor.  Eighty days later she was “fired” by her “employer” for objecting to a business lunch at Hooters that had been proposed by a new national vice president who had had no say in her “hiring.” There had been no lunch at Hooters, and no reporting about that except by the newspaper in Houston.  The so-called “million-dollar case” could have been filed in Minnesota, and on the face of it, the plaintiff had every reason to file there, yet the lawsuit was filed in the state courts of Texas.

             This fueled suspicions that there was a back story. Indeed, there was a back story. It surfaced with a minimum of time and effort. It encouraged skepticism on the part of this writer as to the merits of the lawsuit and the motivations for its filing. There was no follow-up reporting by the online news sources. But this blog continued to monitor the “Hooters case” as it moved through the trial and appeals courts of Texas and on to the federal trial court in Houston.

             The plaintiff waived her demand for a jury trial. The case was tried on her fifth amended petition, i.e., the sixth version of her complaints against her so-called employer. Only four witnesses testified: the plaintiff (Marcia Hocevar) and the regional vice president of sales (Bruce Mrachek), the director of human resources, and the national vice president of sales (Tom Strilko). The defendant presented no witnesses, relying on its exhibits and on evidence elicited on cross examination during the plaintiff’s case.

             Last June the findings, conclusions, and judgment were handed down. The defendant won handily. Plaintiff was not an employee but an independent contractor. The relationship between plaintiff and defendant was initially for December of 2015 only and lasted only 80 days all told. The decisions not to renew the independent contractor relationship and not to hire plaintiff were not wrongful. No one was hired in her place. By December of 2016 the defendant had ceased its sales operations in the United States.

             There was no lunch at Hooters, nor any invitation or proposal of a lunch at Hooters. The plaintiff and the national vice-president of sales had lunch at a non-descript restaurant in Minneapolis. They were the only witnesses to the event. The plaintiff immediately notified the regional v.p. that she had been sexually harassed and had concluded that full-time employment would not be offered to her. The regional v.p. immediately reported the complaints to the director of the human resources department. (Just that easily, plaintiff gained for herself the “halo” of retaliation.). For his part, the national vice president (Strilko) recommended that full-time employment be offered to plaintiff.

             The decisions as to plaintiff were made by executives senior to Strilko, and they were made after the joint insubordination of plaintiff and her immediate superior, the regional V.P. of sales (Mrachek). The members of the sales team were directed to input sales data into an intra-company sales tracking program. Plaintiff refused. Mrachek notified Strilko that plaintiff would not comply until she received an offer of full-time employment, and that Mrachek supported her in that decision. Defendant’s relationships with Mracheck and with plaintiff were terminated for this insubordination.

             This writer had long since concluded that plaintiff showed up for the lunch empty-handed, i.e., she had generated no leads, made no sales, etc. The findings of the trial judge confirmed that conclusion: Plaintiff completed no sales and produced no revenue (though she collected as much as $45,000.00 per her agreement during the 80 days). One new thing was learned from the findings and conclusions of the trial judge: The regional vice president (Mrachek) was biased because he had sought and lost the position that Strilko had gained, and his (Mrachek’s) testimony about his communication with the director of HR was not credible.

             See, Hocevar v. Molecular Health Inc., No. 20 cv 664 on the docket of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Houston Division


Copyright by David H. McCarthy III