LOS ANGELES (CN) — Dennis Tito, the first millionaire to buy his way into Earth orbit as a tourist, faces a discrimination lawsuit from the only woman or minority to be an officer or board member of his high-tech finance firm, Wilshire Associates.
Cynthia Loo claims the company fired her as president of Wilshire Associates' analytics division on Sept. 16 because Tito had decided she was too old.
She is older than 55, according to her Oct. 4 lawsuit against Tito and his company, in Superior Court.
"Defendants and each of them discriminated against plaintiff based on her protected age," it says. "In fact, Wilshire's managing agent, Tito, stated as much, saying that plaintiff was too old, that he was going to replace her and wanted her to retire from Wilshire."
Loo also accuses them defendants of harassing her and discriminating against her based on her gender and race.
"There is no question that Wilshire's termination of Loo was unlawfully motivated by age, gender, and race discrimination, as well as by unlawful retaliation," the lawsuit states. "Indeed, it is difficult to find a case in the post Jim Crow era in which undisputed facts so egregiously smack of such discrimination."
In a short email late Wednesday, a spokesperson for Wilshire disagreed.
"The claims in this case are without merit and we will vigorously defend ourselves," the spokesperson said.
Tito founded Wilshire Associates in 1972 to carry out financial management and investing by applying quantitative analytical techniques he learned in his days as a JPL rocket scientist to calculate market risks.
The Santa Monica-based company manages or advises on hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, according to its website. It also developed the Wilshire 500 stock index.
The company founder and board chairman made news beyond the business pages in 2001 when he became the first person to pay for a vacation in outer space, where he spent nearly eight days in orbit on the International Space Station.
Loo joined Wilshire in 1981, fresh from USC's graduate business school. She became an executive in 1986, according to her lawsuit. Over her 35-year career at Wilshire, she built a remarkable record without a single warning or negative review in her personnel file, the suit claims.
In 2014, Loo was made president of Wilshire Analytics — at half her male predecessor's salary, she says — with the mission to modernize its legacy, "antiquated investment analytics system."
Even though the company cut Loo's budget, forced her to carry out a pair of layoffs and shifted work from other divisions onto hers, she says that by January this year she had succeeded in creating a modernized and powerful "next generation" analytics software system. She says company officials were extremely pleased, and media reports about the new "Optima" system were glowing.
"The feedback was uniformly positive. In fact, at the conclusion of the two hour presentation [to executives on Feb. 1], Tito said, 'This is obviously going very well.'" But things did not go well for Loo, she says. For one, she did not get the bonus she'd been promised.
Then at an Aug. 30 shareholders meeting, Tito set out to humiliate her, she says in the complaint.
"Remarkably, on that occasion Tito stated publicly and repeatedly that the team of which Loo was a part was 'too old.'"
He continued with a "rant, in which no age-based discriminatory stereotype or remark was skipped," Loo says.
One of her attorneys, Russell F. Wolpert with Browne George Ross, said in an interview that the 76-year-old Tito appeared to have developed a "fixation" with age.
"He views the world through age as some sort of paradigm" for quality, Wolpert said.
On Sept. 16, barely two weeks after the shareholders meeting, Loo was give two weeks notice. She sued four days after those two weeks ran out.
"Our client was justly dismayed after more than a third of a century of exemplary performance and wanted to pursue her rights," Wolpert said about the speedy lawsuit.
Loo seeks punitive damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, and age, gender and race discrimination and harassment.
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