August 18, 2000 11:10 AM PDT

Ex-Oracle VP wins wrongful termination suit

A former Oracle vice president has won a lawsuit against the database software giant for wrongful termination after she questioned whether Oracle unlawfully accessed software from rival SAP.

A jury in San Francisco Superior Court found that Oracle and executive vice president Gary Bloom wrongfully terminated Sandy Baratta, who was fired April 30, 1999. The jury awarded Baratta approximately $2.6 million and found for her on all of her claims, according to a statement released yesterday by law firm Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & True.

The jury found that Baratta was fired when she questioned whether Oracle had misappropriated a trade secret of close competitor SAP. She alerted Bloom on April 29, 1999, of potential legal problems relating to the access by an Oracle applications group of SAP's core R/3 business software without SAP's permission. Bloom terminated her employment the following day.

The jury also concluded that Oracle retaliated against Baratta when she complained about certain remarks made to her by Bloom regarding pregnant executives before he knew she was pregnant. At the time of her termination, Baratta was almost five months pregnant.

In a company statement, Oracle said it intends to challenge the jury's verdict by both post-trial motions and by appeal and believes there is a high likelihood the verdict will not be allowed to stand.

Oracle said it is "disappointed" that the jury accepted Baratta's claims of wrongful termination.

"Oracle knows that Ms. Baratta was, in fact, terminated for the inappropriate way in which she treated employees on her staff," the statement read.

Baratta, who served as vice president of global alliances at Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle, filed her lawsuit in June of last year.

Potential legal problems came to her attention after Oracle's CRM (customer relationship management) software group announced the development of an interface between Oracle front-office applications and SAP R/3 back-office software. In the lawsuit, Baratta alleged that she was immediately terminated after she alerted Bloom, who reports to chief executive Larry Ellison, of her suspicions that the application group may have misappropriated SAP trade secrets for the development.

"The jury found Ms. Baratta had reasonable suspicion that this had happened," said attorney Alan Exelrod. He said the jury found that the fact she was terminated immediately after alerting management was a "motivating factor on why she was terminated from employment."

Much of the evidence at the trial centered on the access of Oracle's CRM application group to SAP's R/3 software, according to the law firm. The lawyers proved that Oracle had accessed SAP's R/3 through an Oracle employee that was stationed at SAP's headquarters in Walldorf, Germany.

Both Oracle and SAP compete in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software market, which consists of back-office applications that automate a company's manufacturing, human resources and financial needs.

As the market for ERP software has slowed, both companies have turned their focus to developing more lucrative, Web-friendly front-office applications, such as CRM software. CRM software automates a company's sales force, marketing efforts and customer service needs.

Oracle has recently had other disputes involving the termination of high-ranking Oracle executives.

As reported, former Oracle executive vice president Pier Carlo Falotti was fired for undisclosed reasons just four days before his nearly $10 million in options were about to vest. Falotti ran Oracle's Europe, Middle East and Africa operations out of an office in Geneva, Switzerland. Falotti claims the options are legally his as he was unable to work on the day of his scheduled termination. Under Swiss law, a company cannot terminate an employee while that person is too ill to work.

Oracle, which filed the lawsuit last month, seeks a court ruling on whether its employment agreement supersedes Swiss law. Oracle is asking the court to determine that Falotti was fired May 31 and has no right to the options. The database giant also is seeking court costs should it prevail.

In May, Randy Baker, 55, an executive vice president and member of the company's management committee, sued Oracle for age discrimination and wrongful termination. Baker is seeking $18.5 million in lost compensation and damages.

 

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