Legal Issues and Lawsuits and Herb Simon and Law

Judge poised to toss lawsuit against Pacers owner

August 25, 2011

A judge suggested Wednesday that she plans to throw out key portions of a lawsuit by a nanny who claims she was fired by Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and his wife because she became pregnant.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue, who planned to issue her decision Thursday, rebuffed hours of arguments by the attorney for nanny Claudia Leite, saying she didn't believe much of the nanny's testimony.

"I can't remember a case with so much impeaching testimony and things that didn't make sense," Hogue told Leite's attorney, Joseph Davis. "It's astounding."

She said she also doubted the testimony of a chauffeur who joined in the lawsuit.

The case offered insight into the lifestyle of a super-rich family with several homes and private jet. Simon, and his wife, Bui, a former Miss Universe, have homes in California and Indiana and travel with a staff that includes nannies for their four children. His family founded the Indiana-based Simon Property Group. According to Forbes, his net worth is $1.4 billion.

"It's hard to infer an anti-family, anti-pregnancy animus from Mrs. Simon when her whole history has been pro-child," said the judge. She noted that Bui Simon runs a foundation for orphans and she adopted the daughter of a sister who died and raised her as her own child even before she married Simon.

"She's not someone who had children and abandoned them to nannies," said the judge. "She drove them to school, fed them, put them to bed."

She also noted that Bui Simon had been extremely generous to Leite, who worked for the Simons for eight years. She said the Simons gave Leite $20,000 to help her mother buy a house in Brazil, gave her a used Mercedes for her personal use and an $11,000 pair of diamond earrings for a birthday.

"It's hard for me to reconcile that with some secret spiteful animus," said the judge who ridiculed the idea that Mrs. Simon was secretly "the Wicked Witch of the West or Cruella DeVille."

Attorney Joseph Davis, representing Leite and chauffeur Robert Young, said in his hours-long argument that Bui Simon tried to humiliate Leite by giving her some of her used pregnancy clothes which were too small for her. The judge said the motive wasn't believable. She also rejected a complaint by Leite that during a trip to Indianapolis, Bui Simon refused to let her go to an emergency room when she experienced discomfort with her pregnancy.

Instead, Leite acknowledged her employer called a friend who was an eminent neo natal doctor and sought his opinion on the phone.

"To me what she did was reasonable and kind," said the judge. She also noted that other employees in the Simon household testified that they were given generous maternity leaves when they became pregnant. Instead of avoiding pregnant employees, she said Bui Simon "continued to hire employees who had more and more children."

Leite was dismissed because of a screaming argument she had with another member of the household staff, the judge said, noting the incident caused the children to cry.

"This is not IBM and computer scientists in a cubicle," Hogue said. "This is a family."

She said Bui Simon had to act to insure calm in the household. She suspended both women for a time, she said, but Leite was fired after a phone conversation in which she told her employer: "It's your fault. You made the children cry." The judge called it "a belligerent response."

She said, "It is undisputed that the Simons were generally delighted with her care of the children," but by the end of the relationship, they no longer liked Leite.

The Simons sat through every day of the three-week trial and gave testimony. Their lawyer, Patricia Glaser, said they refused to consider a settlement with the employees.

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