By Bill Hetherman
A former Patron Tequila executive who is suing the company for more than $70 million in bonuses made racial remarks about Latino workers and uttered inappropriate comments to at least two female employees, his former personal assistant testified today.
Taking the stand on behalf of Patron Spirits International Inc. and company co-founder John Paul DeJoria, Ursula Martinez alleged that Ajendra Singh once referred to Patron Tequila factory workers in Atontonilco, Mexico, as "(epithet) Mexicans" because of his unhappiness over a stillage problem.
Martinez said that three days after she was hired at Patron in 2006 to be one of Singh's aides and translate his conversations with workers into Spanish, she attended a business-related Christmas party in Guadalajara in which he and other factory employees were present. After the party, she and Singh were in a parking lot when he asked her to leave her car there and go with him to an unspecified location, she said.
"He wanted me to sleep with him," Martinez said. "There was no work to be done, no translating."
Asked by Singh's attorney, Louis Miller, if she was merely assuming that his client wanted to be intimate rather than take her to his favorite restaurant, Martinez replied that Singh never mentioned any eateries.
"You know, I'm not assuming," she said. "I know we're not going to the movies, right?"
The 70-year-old, Echo Park-born-DeJoria also is the co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products. His daughter, drag car racer Alexis DeJoria, is married to television personality Jesse James, who was previously wed to Sandra Bullock.
Singh filed his breach-of-contract suit against Patron Spirits and DeJoria in September 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court. He alleges that after the death of Patron's co-founder Martin Crowley in 2003, DeJoria promised Singh that if he stayed at the company and oversaw the construction and operation of the company's new tequila factory in Mexico, he would be receive an equity bonus based on the increased value of the company. His attorneys say that amount is now more than $70 million.
Singh helped build Patron from a small company with almost no production capacity to the industry leader manufacturing and selling two million cases annually and becoming a multibillion-dollar business, according to his lawsuit.
Singh was fired in 2008, allegedly because of allegations of sexual harassment and abusive conduct toward subordinates.
In her testimony, Martinez said Singh treated her well on a professional level and that she left the company in 2008 to obtain her master's degree in Spain. She said she is not taking sides in the case and originally did not want to testify in the trial.
However, she said she traveled to Los Angeles after changing her mind and deciding it was the right thing to do.
Martinez said Singh made her "uncomfortable" during the Christmas incident, especially because she was new on the job. She said she refused his invitation to go with him after the party.
"I said, 'No, thank you, I'm not going there,"' she testified. "I started crying. I felt so bad and that is the end of it."
Martinez drew chuckles from the jury when she testified that she did not have to translate when Singh used nasty language when speaking to factory workers.
"Bad words they understood," Martinez said.
Martinez said Patron Mexico's former human resources senior manager, Gricelda Haro, confided in her when they worked at the company that Singh had also made her feel uneasy with his words and actions.
"She said all of this to me in a very detailed way," Martinez said.
In a deposition, Haro testified that Singh would yell at her and that she would not always know why.
"He used to get angry (at) different departments and he used to ask me why I didn't (do) anything," Haro testified.
Singh also once said to her, "I don't believe that you're so stupid," Haro testified.
Haro later denied any misconduct toward her by Singh.
—City News Service