A former employee of ChaCha Search Inc. has sued the Carmel firm, claiming the owner’s wife harassed her for suspected infidelity with her husband, and that the company failed to prevent the harassment and a “sexually hostile” work environment.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in an Indianapolis federal court, focuses on a period in July 2013 when the wife of ChaCha founder Scott Jones came to conclude that he was having an affair with then-employee Renee Larr.
According to Larr's lawsuit, Jones’ wife, Vee Jones, confronted Larr at ChaCha's office on July 17 and both shouted at her and threatened her. Vee Jones claimed that Larr was "sleeping with" Scott Jones, which Larr says is untrue.
Over the next several days, Vee Jones used her Twitter account, which had more than 50,000 followers, to repeatedly threaten and disparage Larr.
Larr subsequently quit her job, according to the lawsuit, "due to the unimaginable condition of having to work for an employer [whose wife] conducted such a malicious and hostile campaign toward her.
“The sexual harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of Larr’s employment and created an intimidating, hostile, offensive, and abusive working environment,” the suit alleges.
On top of the allegations that the CEO’s wife harassed Larr, the lawsuit claims ChaCha “received notice and knew, or should have known, that Larr would be sexually harassed.” And the company failed to prevent the harassment, which created a hostile work environment, the suit says.
The suit does not specify a dollar amount in damages it seeks. But it requests compensation for Larr’s lost wages and benefits, as well as damages for the “mental anguish and consequential harm she suffered.”
The lawsuit claims ChaCha violated the Civil Rights Act.
In an interview with IBJ on Thursday, Scott Jones said that the company did nothing wrong.
“[Larr] may have an issue with my wife, and that’s a separate issue," Jones said.
In September, Larr filed a separate case against Vee Jones in state court in Noblesville. The case remains open.
Regarding the new, federal case against ChaCha, Larr’s attorney, James A. Goodin, declined to comment beyond what was stated in the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Vee Jones had begun posting items on Twitter on July 16 about her suspicion that Scott Jones was having an affair with an employee. The suit also asserts that Scott Jones knew that his wife suspected Larr. However, Jones did not inform Larr.
On July 17, ChaCha's director of human resources told Larr at work that Vee Jones suspected her. Larr allegedly was told that the doors to ChaCha would be locked, and that Vee Jones would not be allowed entrance to the premises. However, Jones was able to gain access to the building.
After being confronted by Vee Jones with an offensive tirade, Larr asked other ChaCha employees to call the police. She was told that the police would not be called unless employees had permission from Scott Jones, who was not on premises at that time, the suit says.
ChaCha failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment once it knew, or should have known, that Larr would be targeted, the suit charges.