LOS ANGELES – A judge on Friday tentatively ruled against Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and his wife in the beginning phase of a wrongful dismissal trial involving the nanny that they fired.
Claudia Leite's lawsuit claimed she was fired because she became pregnant. A chauffeur has also joined in the suit.
Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue said that while she found Simon and his wife to be credible witnesses, she felt they should have done more investigation after Leite failed a fingerprint test in 2005. She also noted that the couple was told of an incident in which Leite slapped a boyfriend while he was driving and they had seen her lose her temper twice.
The couple testified that they knew nothing of Leite's violent background involving restraining orders, spousal abuse charges and a boyfriend who was a drug addict. They said they would not have hired and rehired her if they had known about her past.
Herb Simon, 75, whose family funded the Indiana-based shopping mall company Simon Property group, has a net worth of $1.4 billion, according to Forbes. He and his wife, a former Miss Universe from Thailand, have three children and homes in Montecito and Malibu, as well as Indiana.
The judge said they should have been alerted when their children's school asked for a fingerprint test of Leite to allow her to drive in car pools at the school. Simon's wife, Bui, testified earlier that the school called to say the nanny had failed the test but they did not reveal why.
"That was an enormous red flag that should have put the Simons on notice," said the judge. "You are put on notice that an employee has failed some kind of criminal background test. That is an enormous red flag to any parent."
The couple's lawyer, Patricia Glaser, said that the Simons trusted Leite, who worked for them for eight years, and that Bui Simon believed the Brazilian born-nanny when she said the fingerprint problem stemmed from an immigration issue.
Hogue said she understood that they trusted her. "You have an abiding trust and see a person day to day and they are virtually part of your family," she said.
But she added, "There was nothing to prevent the Simons from asking an employee, 'Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever had a restraining order against you?'"
She said she would make her decision final Monday and schedule a jury trial in the remainder of the case against the Simons. When asked whether arguments could be presented next week, she answered: "This is not necessarily the end of it."
She also suggested that the parties meet for a settlement conference. But Glaser said outside court that "there is no chance of a settlement. They have no interest whatsoever."
The nanny's lawyer, Joseph Davis, argued that Bui Simon was aware of physical fights between Leite and a boyfriend but ignored it. "She just didn't want to hear about it... She threw up her hands said, 'I just don't want to hear about it anymore,'" he said.
Leite testified that she quit her job in 2006 in a dispute with Bui Simon at Los Angeles International Airport when the family returned from an overseas trip. She asked for her job back in 2008 and was rehired.
"Claudia was hard working and loved by the family," Davis said. "The Simons trusted Claudia and she had earned their love, not just for the great love and warmth she showed for the children but the warm relations she had with them. It was the love of Claudia for the children that trumped everything."
"The defendants' case is not what she did to the children," said Davis. "It's what they did not know she was doing in her personal life."