Ex-'Idol' employee ordered to arbitrate Mario Vazquez harassment suit
By Christopher Rocchio, 06/20/2007
Apparently American Idol contestants aren't the only ones who sign very specific agreements to work with FreemantleMedia, the Fox mega-hit's production company. Just ask the show's former assistant production accountant Magdaleno Olmos.
Arbitration was ordered on Wednesday in a lawsuit filed in mid-March in Los Angeles Superior Court by Olmos, according to the city's Fox affiliate KTTV. In the lawsuit, Olmos claimed he was fired for complaining he was sexually harassed by Idol fourth-season finalist Mario Vazquez, who reportedly withdrew from the competition before the finals began for "personal reasons." Olmos' attorneys have since stated Vazquez' departure was not voluntary and was instead the result of their client's claim.
In addition to suing Vazquez, Olmos named Fox Entertainment and FremantleMedia as defendants in his lawsuit for wrongful termination and violation of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act. He was seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, according to KTTV.
However Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael C. Solner ruled on Wednesday that Olmos knew when he was hired by FreemantleMedia to work on Idol that he was signing an agreement to "arbitrate all disputes and not file a lawsuit," KTTV reported. Based on the ruling, Solner granted a defense motion to send the case to arbitration, according to KTTV, and put a hold on the lawsuit.
"It's the right decision," defense attorney George R. Hedges told KTTV. "[Olmos'] claim has no merit."
While the defense may agree with Solner's ruling, the same can obviously not be said for Olmos' lawyer Thomas S. Campbell, who according to KTTV was opposed to having the case go before an arbitrator. Campbell told Solner it was "unclear" whether Olmos received a handbook from FreemantleMedia explaining the arbitration process, according to KTTV, which added Campbell said the language of the arbitration rules provided his client's employer with an "unfair advantage."
Olmos claimed in the lawsuit that he began to be sexually harassed by Vazquez in February 2005 and it includes an encounter the two had in a restroom stall that ended with Vazquez allegedly masturbating. The lawsuit further claims that despite Olmos attempting to stop Vazquez' sexual advances, the former Idol 4 hopeful persisted, and the incident allegedly ended with Vazquez asking Olmos "if he wanted oral sex."
In his lawsuit, Olmos claims that he tried to report the incident to a superior at Idol, who allegedly responded by telling Olmos that "he was crazy." Olmos also alleges the supervisor said if he "did not stop complaining about his supervisor's hostile treatment of him, [Olmos] would 'cry [himself] out of a job' and not be back for Season 5."
Olmos began working on Idol in October 2002 and his contract was renewed each of the next two years, according to the lawsuit, until he was "terminated" in May 2005 in the midst of Idol's fifth-season run.