Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Richard A. Stone has dismissed an extortion lawsuit brought by popular Spanish-language radio personality Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo against six former staff members of his canceled Univision Radio show — and ruled that Sotelo may be liable for his adversaries’ legal fees. Sotelo now has a morning show on SiriusXM satellite radio.
Sotelo filed the suit 8/26/13 against six former Univision employees and their LA attorneys for attempting to “shake him down” for $4.9 million by threatening to go public with what the suit calls false and misleading allegations of sexual harassment and workplace humiliation.
According to the suit, the defendants made their demands of Piolin on the telephone and in writing. The demands followed press reports that another former employee had made similar wild claims as well as the announcement that Piolin and SiriusXM had agreed to launch a new channel of Spanish-language programming.
The lawsuit detailed how the defendants offered to “seal their lips” and take their own copycat allegations “to their graves” if Piolin paid the group the $4.9 million. “Their attorneys made this demand although they acknowledged to Piolin’s counsel that three of their clients were time-barred from making legitimate legal claims because the statute of limitations for such matters had expired. In fact, the other three Defendants also are barred because they had previously signed agreements waiving any and all legal claims against Piolin or his former employer, Univision, a fact which their attorneys certainly knew or should have known. Without any hope of resolving the claims legitimately, their demands amounted to civil extortion–a “naked money grab” through the unlawful use of fear,” the lawsuit said.
Piolin’s suit named as defendants six former friends and colleagues from the Univision “Piolin Por La Manana” morning show. They are former employees Domingo Rodrigo Ochoa; Tomas Alejandro Fernandez; Samuel “Cusuco” Heredia; Sergio “Checo” Vera; Gerardo “Chiquirruco” Palencia, and Bertha “Betushca” Velasco. The complaint also names as Defendants attorneys John C. Taylor and Robert R. Clayton and their firm, Taylor & Ring, LLP. The same law firm represents the former employee who lodged the initial accusations in a demand letter to Univision Radio.
The lawsuit details how Piolin gave five of the defendants, who had no prior broadcast experience, their “break” in radio. Piolin also shared his good fortune through raises, perks, loans and side payments made by his personal production company as the program shot its way up the ratings to become number one in the U.S. Hispanic market, where it was syndicated on more than 60 stations.
According to the suit, the Defendants began plotting as early as 2006 to pressure Piolin for more money, even if it meant staging a walkout. When Univision urged the dismissal of the Defendants for insubordination, Piolin not only saved their jobs but persuaded management to grant them salary increases. Within years, however, Univision fired two of the defendants for poor job performance and laid off the other four Defendants as part of company-wide staff reductions, the lawsuit stated.
Despite losing their jobs, several of the defendants expressed gratitude for Piolin’s mentorship and the opportunity to work on the show, according to the lawsuit. In emails after the layoffs in 2011, Palencia called his time with Piolin “a very beautiful cycle” in his life. Fernandez wrote that he would remember Piolin as “the friend from high school that gave me his hand and the one with whom I shared the best 8 years of my life,” the lawsuit says.
Prior to the suit, Piolin was accused of sexual harassment and more by Alberto ‘Beto’ Cortez. Cortez, a writer, producer and performer on the show, alleged that his boss Sotelo was “physically, sexually and emotionally harassing” him for a three-year period ending last January. The claim was made in a 4/16 letter from Cortez attorney Robert Clayton to Roberto Llamas and Jose Valle of Univision.
In addition to the claim of sexual harassment, Cortez alleged that Sotelo ordered members of his radio production team to falsify letters in support of a high-profile campaign for congressional immigration reform, an issue that Sotelo championed on his program.
Judge Stone dismissed Sotelo’s lawsuit late last week, finding Sotelo had failed to prove that he would prevail with his extortion claims during a trial.
The judge also said the former workers could file a petition demanding that Sotelo pay their legal costs.
Sotelo’s attorney, Jeffrey Spitz, vowed to appeal, said an LA Times story.
“We are disappointed in the court’s ruling,” Spitz said 3/19 in a statement. “Our appeal will be based, in part, on the fact that not all of the relevant evidence was considered by the court before making its decision. We are confident the defendants ultimately will be held accountable for their actions in seeking to extort our client.”
Sotelo has described his former staff as ungrateful and opportunistic, noted the LA Times story.