SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Oracle Racing scuttled a professional sailor’s reputation by making him the patsy after a crewmate broke the rules of a regatta ahead of the 34th America’s Cup, the sailor claims in Federal Court.
The crewmate violated race rules by adding too much weight to a part of the sailboat called the kingpost, Matthew Mitchell says.
Oracle Racing, which hired Mitchell in 2012 to help prepare for the 34th America’s Cup, chose not to suspend or fire the crewmate, he says.
Leading up to the main event, which was held in San Francisco Bay in 2013 using 72-foot catamarans, was the America’s Cup World Series, for which the Oracle team prepared three 45-foot multi-hull race boats called AC45s.
When Mitchell, who is from New Zealand, arrived in San Francisco to manage the reassembly of one of the AC45 boats named BAR45, he says he “had never assembled or repaired an AC45 boat before.”
However, an experienced sailor on the job named Simeon Tienpont was the “go to” sailor, having assembled three of the boats before, he says.
Tienpost is not a party to Mitchell’s complaint.
Mitchell claims that he did not perform any work on the kingpost nor did he supervise Tienpont, who did. The kingpost is a sturdy post near the bow that rises above the deck.
“[Mitchell] had seen the kingpost on a work bench at some point and noticed that it was heavy but saw that the job list said to add weight to the kingpost and assumed that it was approved work,” the lawsuit states.
After the AC45 regattas were over, as the Oracle team prepared for the America’s Cup, a race official discovered that lead added to the BAR boat’s kingpost made it more than twice as heavy as allowed by class rules.
An America’s Cup investigation resulted in a finding of gross misconduct against Mitchell and he was suspended from the first four Cup races.
America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA was almost eliminated, but then won eight straight races to beat the challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand, 9-8.
Mitchell says that Oracle Racing’s leadership knew he was not to blame but failed to alert officials. They “failed to suspend/terminate Simeon Tienpont and allowed him to sail on the OTUSA race boat 17 in the 34th America’s Cup meaning that the team had a rule-breaking sailor in the 11 sailors who sailed the boat to victory.”
Oracle Racing’s “inactions forced and transferred the blame for the adding of weight to the BAR boat’s kingpost wrongfully to plaintiff,” whom the complaint describes as “the innocent party.”
Last year, the same kingpost trouble prompted Mitchell to sue Oracle Racing in state court. In that litigation he is trying to recoup $68,000 that he paid for legal representation before an International Sailing Federation disciplinary body that also investigated the excessive weight. The case is currently scheduled for arbitration in January 2016.
Oracle Racing’s principal owner is Larry Ellison, who is not a party to either case.
The new case, filed Monday in the Northern District of California by attorney Patricia Barlow, alleges that Oracle Racing Inc. dba Oracle Team USA breached Mitchell’s employment contract by retaining Tienpont and for failing to report to the jury that Tienpont was responsible for the kingpost alteration.
He seeks at least $400,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for distress, anguish and the “loss of reputation associated with good sportsmanship and receipt of a sports penalty.”
Neither Barlow nor an Oracle Racing representative responded to requests for comment.
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