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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Sailor Sues Winning America’s Cup Team

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A sailor on Oracle Racing's winning America's Cup team claims in court that he had to shell out $68,000 for a lawyer to fight charges that he tweaked the rules by adding extra weight to a sailboat.

Matthew Mitchell sued Oracle Racing Inc. on Wednesday in Superior Court.

Mitchell claims his employer told him to add the weight, so the employer should foot his legal bills.

Oracle Racing's principal owner is Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, who is not a party to the case.

Mitchell says that Oracle Racing hired him to prepare a 45-foot catamaran for the America's Cup World Series, a string of races building up to the 34th America's Cup, which took place in San Francisco Bay in 2013 and used 72-foot boats.

Mitchell says flew to San Francisco in 2012 and joined his teammates on the Oracle Racing team.

"Immediately after his arrival, plaintiff was assigned by defendant to commission and prepare a boat known as the BAR45 (Ben Ainslie Racing)," the complaint states.

His tasks were "listed on a 'job list' that was prepared and issued by defendant," the complaint states. "Included in the 'job list' was a task listed as 'Fill Kingpost.'"

The kingpost is a sturdy post near the bow that rises above the deck. Race officials subsequently found that the kingpost on Mitchell's boat was too heavy and broke AC45 class rules.

Mitchell's was named as a defendant by the America's Cup International Jury and was required to attend a two-day hearing in August 2013.

The jury decided that Mitchell probably participated in filling the kingpost with heavy resinous material.

The decision described Mitchell, who is from New Zealand, as a sailor and yacht rigger working on his fifth America's Cup campaign, who should have known that because the kingpost on the AC45 class boat he was assembling was "nearly 2.5 times heavier than the norm, its legality was obviously questionable."

Mitchell has had to pay for representation not only in the original hearing but also in subsequent investigations by the International Sailing Federation and Yachting New Zealand, according to the complaint.

Oracle Racing is required by the California Labor Code to indemnify Mitchell because he was preparing the boat in line with his employer's instructions and has had to pay defense fees "as a direct and proximate result of the acts of defendant," according to the lawsuit.

Mitchell seeks his legal fees, plus interest, and special damages for failure to indemnify under the California Legal Code.

He is represented by Joshua Gruenberg, of San Diego.

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