On January 7, 2005, Sherry Flotron says she awoke from a midday nap in a Las Vegas hotel room and found her boss, Jim Neumann, naked and on top of her, straddling her legs and masturbating. She claims the CEO of Chesterfield-based AdOne Media, Inc. proceeded to ejaculate on her shirt, and then left the room after tossing her a towel.
Four days later Flotron, a tan, attractive, petite brunette, invested her life savings, nearly $38,000, in AdOne stock. Four months later she was fired.
Flotron eventually filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Neumann and AdOne in St. Louis County Circuit Court, citing the Las Vegas incident in addition to dozens of other acts allegedly committed by Neumann. Those included offering her $10,000 "to get a boob job," exposing himself to her under his desk and answering the door naked at a Chicago hotel while the pair were on a business trip.
Last week, after nearly four and a half hours of deliberation, a jury of eight women and four men ruled in favor of Flotron, finding the 43-year-old Neumann guilty of sexual harassment, retaliatory firing, assault and battery. They awarded Flotron more than $1.1 million in damages.
"My reaction is one of relief that the justice system worked so well in this case," Flotron's St. Louis attorney Eli Karsh said minutes after the jury announced its verdict. "This was a case of egregious sexual harassment with a company president who repeatedly lied on the stand."
Neumann and his attorney, Albert Watkins, vehemently disagree and plan to request a new trial. They maintain that Flotron, a 39-year-old O'Fallon resident who joined the company in December 2004, fabricated the allegations in the hope of reclaiming her lost investment. They argue that there are numerous holes in her story, including the fact that she continued to buy stock in the company — she even persuaded her father and grandmother to do so — despite the alleged harassment. Watkins said she was eventually fired for poor sales performance and skipping a meeting.
Watkins, a high-profile St. Louis lawyer, says Neumann, a stocky, blond-haired man, was so sure of his innocence that he made the risky decision of letting the case go to trial rather than paying the woman to settle out of court. Asked to explain his decision, Watkins replies, "I can only answer that question with a question: Would you give a dime to someone who falsely accuses you of blowing a load on their chest?"
After losing the case a disappointed Watkins said, "This is the type of thing that's given rise to the entire tort reform movement. That is, runaway jury verdicts that do not have rational or sound basis in fact or law, and this is what dissuades many people from opening up businesses and having them operate in places like Missouri."
Flotron and her attorneys admit that they were surprised the case ended up in a courtroom.
"When you're faced with these types of allegations, it's very, very dangerous to put it in front of a jury," Karsh's co-counsel Mark Potashnick said shortly after the verdict was rendered.
"A normal man would make a settlement offer and hope it goes away, but [Neumann is] very arrogant and cocky," Flotron said during a break as the attorneys prepared their closing arguments. "Every one of my lawyer friends said no way he'd put himself up there. I talked to one attorney who said if it was a big company like Anheuser-Busch, he'd be driving over to my house right away [to represent me]."
AdOne Media specializes in selling outdoor advertising such as billboards and bus wraps. The company's Web site lists General Electric, Kraft Foods and Sprint as clients. Neumann founded the company in late 2004 and chose Chesterfield for its headquarters after marrying a St. Louis native. A father of four from two marriages, Neumann, who sat stone-faced while taking notes throughout the trial, testified that his company's worth is about $12 million. He estimated his personal worth at $2 million.
Flotron, a St. Louis native who attended Notre Dame High School, claims the harassment began almost immediately after she was hired. During her testimony, Flotron recounted a business trip to Chicago in late December during which Neumann "forcibly kissed me" and propositioned her for sex. When she refused, Flotron said he took off his shirt and asked her for a back rub.
Flotron tearfully testified that while she was in Las Vegas to attend a trade show, she'd been out late imbibing Red Bull Energy Drink, and the next day she decided to take an afternoon nap. She says she woke to find Neumann on top of her.
Albert Watkins asked, "Was Mr. Neumann absolutely butt-naked when he was on top of you?"
Dressed in sleek black business attire, a combative Flotron replied, "I don't know, he may have had socks on."
"Was he circumcised or uncircumcised?" Watkins asked.
"His hand was around it. I don't really even know the difference. I don't know how you tell the difference," replied Flotron to more than a few raised eyebrows in the courtroom.
Flotron went on the say that she packed the shirt stained with Neumann's semen in her luggage and brought it back to St. Louis before throwing it away. "It was disgusting, and I wasn't going to wash and wear it again."
In his closing argument Watkins said, "Even Monica [Lewinsky] knew to keep the DNA evidence."
Flotron also admitted that she invested heavily in AdOne stock, despite the fact that she had twice been sexually assaulted by Neumann, and was subjected to regular comments from her boss about her "nice ass" and that he'd asked her "repeatedly about my underwear."
"I thought it meant I could make a lot of money quick and quit at AdOne," she testified, adding that once she invested she feared the financial repercussions of leaving the company, forcing her to stay until she was fired in April.
During the course of the three-day trial, the only witness to take the stand other than the plaintiff and defendant was a friend of Flotron's, who briefly testified that Neumann convinced him to invest in AdOne stock. The evidence submitted to the jury was limited to e-mails exchanged between the two, samples of Flotron's work, her tax returns and other documentation of her employment.
Ultimately, neither side had any hard documentation or witnesses to substantiate their claims. As he was leaving the courtroom, a male juror remarked, "They both had some shaky stories."