A FORMER executive at a Smurfit US subsidiary is seeking upwards of €8m damages from the company, claiming he was wrongly fired following a turbulent three-person company romance.
Carlos Leal Ponce alleges in court documents seen by the Sunday Independent that he had a relationship with a colleague who was also sexually involved with another staff member at a Smurfit California company.
Referring to himself as his colleague's "love competitor", Mr Ponce says that in mid-2012 he began to feel harassed and threatened by this alleged love rival.
He recounts comments about his sexual orientation, where he says he was asked "hey homie, are you trying to turn me on?" because of his beyond shoulder-length wavy hair and was called a "supermandilon" (meaning big henpecked sissy in Spanish) and "Fabio", conduct that created an environment that was, he claims, "intimidating, hostile, abusive and offensive".
Mr Ponce claims his colleague "often makes derogatory, sexually explicit comments and gestures, invites hookers/ call-girls" to events and "provides prostitution" to company suppliers, customers and employees.
Following an altercation at a company Christmas party, Ponce says he was fired, because, according to the company, he had "threatened and verbally assaulted" his colleague and had to be physically restrained and removed from the party.
Mr Ponce claims he would not have been fired if he had not been in a sexual relationship with another staff member while his "love competitor" was also involved with her and was pursuing her with texts, emails, sending her sexual content on YouTube and seeking her out for dinners and company trips. A company overnighter to Dallas caused friction when both men sought her company at the hotel, it is alleged.
Mr Ponce wants damages of at least €3.5m for unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation and emotional distress, not less than €750,000 for breach of employment contract and not less than €3.5m for breach of good faith and fair dealing in a case filed with the superior court of California last week.
Mr Ponce was employed by Smurfit until December 10, 2012, when he alleges that he was wrongfully dismissed. He names the Smurfit Kappa Group as defendants in the case along with his alleged love-rival colleague and SKOC.
Despite notice of "inappropriate and illegal conduct", SKOC failed to take actions to protect him, Mr Ponce says.
Smurfit Kappa Group bought Orange County Container Group, where Ponce had worked since 2009, in September 2012 and it became SKOC, a €40m-earning firm.
Smurfit Kappa Group said it doesn't comment on pending legal action but it is believed it will defend the case.
Mr Ponce's lawyer didn't return calls to his office.