SANTA MONICA (CN) – Former colleagues of Spanish-language radio star Eduardo “Piolín” Sotelo – and their attorneys – tried to extort him for $4.9 million by promising to “seal their lips” and take allegations of workplace sexual harassment “to the grave,” the broadcaster claims in court.
Sotelo sued six former staff members of his Univision radio program, “Piolín por la Mañana,” and their attorneys, in Superior Court.
Sotelo alleges civil extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“This case arises from the defendants’ ingratitude, unmitigated greed, and desire to extract from plaintiff some perceived revenge and an undeserved monetary windfall, all of which culminated in a wrongful attempt to extort from plaintiff almost $5 million,” Sotelo says in the complaint.
“This conduct constitutes criminal and civil extortion as a matter of law. Rather than accede to defendants’ extortionate demands, plaintiff has brought the present action to protect his rights and to expose defendants’ shameful and criminal conduct.”
Sotelo came to the United States in 1986, began working as a news reader for a Spanish-language station in Corona in 1991, and launched his morning talk show with Univision in Los Angeles.
Sotelo’s show, featuring a “mixture of farce, sarcasm, sound gags, outrageous comments and interviews with listeners,” became top-rated in the U.S. Hispanic market and was nationally syndicated on more than 60 radio stations, according to the lawsuit.
“As he prospered, Piolín shared his good fortune and blessings by giving others the opportunity to work in Spanish-language radio. Among those he recruited or welcomed to the program were a high school friend working in a fast-food restaurant; a bakery deliveryman; an online copywriter; a warehouse employee; a medical waste hauler; and a female traffic reporter. In yet another example of no good deed going unpunished, these are now the six ex-employee defendants in this action,” Sotelo says in the lawsuit.
Former Univision employees named as defendants are Tomás Alejandro, Fernandez Samuel Heredia, Gerardo Palencia, Domingo Rodrigo Ochoa, Sergio Vera, and Bertha “Betty” Velasco.
Also sued are Richard R. Clayton, John C. Taylor, Taylor & Ring LLP.
The home Internet page of the Taylor & Ring law office, checked this morning, lists staff attorneys who include Robert R. Clayton and John C. Taylor.
In the complaint, Sotelo claims that while the Univision employee defendants worked for him he authorized raises for them and provided loans and additional payments through his production company, Piolín Productions. They also received other perks, including free travel and interacting with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, according to the lawsuit.
“In return, the ex-employee defendants have betrayed Piolín’s kindness and generosity by conspiring to extort from him $4.9 million under the threat of going public with false allegations of workplace misconduct and sexual harassment,” Sotelo says in the complaint.
The 18-page lawsuit refers to him throughout at Piolín, Spanish for “Tweety Bird.” (Songbirds, in Spanish, do not say “tweet, tweet,” they say “pío, pío.”)
Sotelo claims the seeds of the extortion plot were planted in 2006, after Ochoa, the former online copywriter, was hired to be responsible for day-to-day operations and promotions.
When Ochoa learned about Piolín’s actual and potential earnings, he “began agitating for more money and held meetings urging other employees to do the same. One employee who attended the meetings informed Piolín that Ochoa had suggested his colleagues walk off the job if their demands were not met,” Sotelo claims in the lawsuit.
Sotelo claims that Univision wanted everyone involved in the threats to be fired, but say he saved the employees’ jobs, and persuaded Univision to give them raises.
In the next five years, Sotelo claims, two of the defendants were fired for work performance problems and the other four were let go in companywide staff reductions.
“Significantly, at no time during or after their employment did any of the ex-employee defendants complain to Piolín about inappropriate workplace behavior, humiliation or sexual harassment. Moreover, no such complaints by the ex-employee defendants or other employees who worked on the Program were noted in Piolín’s employment file. Rather, everyone understood that outrageous comments, ridicule, sarcasm, prank calls and the like were all part of the regular – and highly popular – programming format catering to the Spanish-language market,” according to the complaint.
It continues: “In fact, to make sure everyone was clear on this, Univision’s legal department directed the program to post a disclaimer on the studio door for all guests and staffers to read. It stated in part: ‘By remaining during all or any part of the event, you also consent to participate in event activities, including, but not limited to, any pranks, tricks, comedic or other situations.'”
Sotelo claims he had little to no contact with the six former employees after they were let go, until a July 30 article in the Los Angeles Times described complaints by Cortez, who claimed that Piolín had demeaned and humiliated members of his radio team, and subjected male employees to “inappropriate touching and groping.”
“Piolín issued a public statement denying the allegations and lamenting the sad fact that a former show employee and one-time personal friend had ‘resorted to making baseless claims in an attempt to obtain an undeserved financial windfall.’ The statement also revealed that Piolín had learned of a small group of former Univision employees that had begun a smear campaign against him,” Sotelo says in the complaint.
He claims the extortion conspiracy took off when SiriusXM announced on Aug. 13 that it was launching a new morning-drive show, “El Show de Piolín.”
Sotelo claims the defendants resorted to extortion because they knew that their claims against him would be tossed out of court. Three of the employees are time-barred from filing complaints and the other three signed agreements that waived all legal claims against Piolín or Univision as part of their severance from Univision, according to the lawsuit.
Despite this knowledge, the employees’ attorney Clayton, informed Sotelo’s attorneys on Aug. 19 “that the six ex-employee defendants were willing to take their allegations ‘to the grave’ in exchange for a monetary settlement. Clayton acknowledged that three of his clients would be time-barred from seeking relief in court, but that the settlement would nevertheless have to be a package deal for all six defendants,” Sotelo says in the lawsuit.
Three days later, according to the complaint, “Clayton sent to Piolín’s attorney a faxed letter on Taylor & Ring LLP letterhead saying: ‘We have been authorized to resolve all of our clients’ claims against Eddie ‘Piolín’ Sotelo for four million nine hundred thousand dollars and zero cents ($4.9 million).'”
The next day, Aug. 23, “Clayton sent an email to Piolín’s attorney informing him that the defendants were prepared to file ‘complaints’ sometime the following week if they didn’t get paid,” Sotelo claims in the lawsuit.
He claims the former employees and their attorneys “have attempted a naked money grab, but have sorely underestimated their target; plaintiff has worked for justice his whole life and does so again with this present action.”
Sotelo demands punitive damages for civil extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He is represented by Jeffrey Spitz with Lerman Pointer & Spitz.
Calls to Taylor & Ring seeking comment were not immediately returned.
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