Advertisement
Share

Erin Brockovich Testifies Boss Was ‘Gentleman’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Erin Brockovich staunchly defended her boss, Ed Masry, as a “perfect gentleman” as testimony continued Monday in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by a former employee.

The lawyer for plaintiff Kissandra Cohen suggested that Brockovich has a peculiar notion of sexual harassment and is trying to protect the man who helped make her famous in the movie named for her. Lawyer Dan Marino questioned Brockovich repeatedly about what she wore to the office, showing the jury published photos of her.

“I have worn low-cut blouses, yes,” Brockovich testified. But she denied using suggestive clothing to get ahead in her career.

Referring to Masry, the 69-year-old mayor of Thousand Oaks, Brockovich told jurors, “He’s been nothing but a perfect gentleman to others.”

Advertisement

In her 11 years at the Masry & Vittitoe law firm in Westlake Village, Brockovich testified, no one besides Cohen has complained about sexual harassment. She admitted that some foul language has been used by her and Masry, but denied that there was constant sexual banter in the office as alleged on the witness stand by Cohen.

Brockovich, who still works for Masry as his research director, testified in the Van Nuys courtroom of Judge Stanley Weisberg that two key pieces of evidence offered by Cohen’s lawyer did not strike her as sexual harassment.

One was a lollipop in the shape of male genitalia. Cohen says it was left for her at work by a male attorney with a note saying, “Suck on this.”

The other was a cover photo of the Jewish Journal, showcasing Cohen as an “outstanding graduate” of Loyola-Marymount law school at age 20. On it, the same attorney had written, “Cool and kosher!! No pork on these gams!!” and “She looks real good in a skirt.”

“I haven’t seen this kind of stuff in our law firm,” Brockovich testified. “If it was between friends, it could have been construed as a joke.”

Defense lawyers admit that attorney James Brown wrote the comments on the magazine but deny that he gave Cohen the lollipop.

Cohen contends that Masry fired her in December 1999 after she refused his sexual advances. Her lawsuit says that constant foul, sexually suggestive language used by Masry, Brockovich and others created a hostile work environment.

Cohen, who is Jewish, also alleges religious discrimination because she had to work Friday nights to attend meetings of a citizens group Masry was representing in a lawsuit.

Masry denies all the allegations and says that he fired her because she misrepresented her academic credentials. After she worked for him only a few months, he concluded that “she was in over her head.”

Masry testified Monday that there has been “not even a whisper” of sexual harassment allegations against him in more than 40 years of running his law firm.

When he hired Cohen out of law school, about the time the movie “Erin Brockovich” was becoming a hit, her resume was so impressive that he believed that he could make Cohen a star attorney.

Masry testified that Cohen falsely told him in a job interview that she was about to graduate first, second or third from Loyola and that she was concurrently receiving an MBA. Other trial evidence showed that she graduated fifth from last in her nearly 400-member law class and that she had been disqualified from Loyola’s MBA program.

“I thought to myself, boy, in 10 years I’ll make her the Clarence Darrow of the West Coast,” he testified.

Masry planned to assign her to the same type of environmental litigation that was the plot line in the Universal Pictures film.

The film told the story of the town of Hinkley, Calif., where Brockovich tenaciously proved large-scale corporate pollution.

Eventually Masry won a $333-million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric in that case.

Outside court, Brockovich said she felt bad about having to testify against someone beginning her career, but she thought that she had no choice.

“Ed is my mentor, my boss, my hero,” she said. “He was delighted to hire this young person. It just didn’t work out.”


Advertisement