Aides to “Star Wars” creator George Lucas said they worried a pregnant job applicant might not be able to handle the stress of working at the famed filmmaker’s chaotic San Anselmo estate. But in the trial of a pregnancy-discrimination lawsuit in Marin Superior Court, Lucasfilm managers testified that those concerns had absolutely nothing to do with the decision to cancel a job offer made to Julie Gilman Veronese.
Sarita Patel, Lucas’s estate manager, said she had “nagging doubts” from the beginning that Veronese, 37, daughter-in-law of San Francisco lawyer Angela Alioto, might be “too high society” for a personal assistant position that entailed bringing the film mogul sandwiches and cleaning up after his two Malamutes.
Veronese sued Lucasfilm Ltd. late last year. She claims Patel revoked a $75,000-per-year job offer after she revealed she was pregnant with twins. Veronese is represented by her mother-in-law, a former San Francisco city supervisor, and her husband, former Police Commissioner Joseph Alioto Veronese. The legal team contends the company violated a state law that protects pregnant women from job discrimination.
Lucas is scheduled to testify tomorrow, despite objections from his lawyers, who say the billionaire filmmaker knows nothing about Veronese.
Defense attorneys have painted Veronese as a delusional, self-entitled socialite with “narcissistic personality traits,” an assessment they say they’ll prove with a psychologist’s testimony. They also contend Patel only hired Veronese for a “30-day project,” not a full-time job and that the decision to cancel the project was “mutual.”
Court records show Veronese interviewed last April for a job assisting Patel at the filmmaker’s sprawling Marin County estate. According to Veronese, Patel asked whether she planned to have children, saying, “I know I ask inappropriate questions, but I need to know.”
In her testimony, Patel acknowledged asking such questions in an attempt to judge Veronese’s “family values.”
Veronese signed a contract on June 25, 2008 to work for Patel, court records show, which stipulated that employment could end before or after a 30-day period. Defense attorney Janine Simerly described it as “a 30-day project position to see if it was a good fit.”
Veronese told the jury Tuesday that she understood that if she performed well in the first 30 days, the position would become permanent.
But Veronese never started work. On June 27, the Friday before her first day, Veronese told Patel she had learned she was pregnant with twins and was feeling sick. In her testimony, Patel said she told Veronese not to come in on Monday. “Your health is the most important thing,” Patel recalled saying. “This job is going nowhere.”
In her suit, Veronese claims Patel wouldn’t give her another start date after that. Alioto has pointed to a series of e-mail exchanges between Lucasfilm managers as evidence that the company rejected Veronese because of her pregnancy.
In one e-mail, Jane Bey, who manages Lucas’ business dealings from her Skywalker Ranch office, questioned Patel about whether Veronese “would be able to do this job just being pregnant (first trimester) and then going out on a three-month maternity leave.”
“I can’t help but worry about it,” Bey said in the e-mail.
Weeks later, after learning Veronese had miscarried one of her twins, Patel e-mailed Lucasfilm Human Resources Manager Janetta Wood, saying she was “afraid to bring on a pregnant person.”
“There is no way I can see someone in this condition following me around and not have it affect their health,” she told Wood.
“I’m thinking I should just have Julie do a project … for one month,” Patel added.
In court, Patel became emotional as Alioto grilled her about the e-mail. Wiping tears from her eyes, Patel said she was worried how the enormous burden of managing the Lucas estate, with its difficult neighbors and never-ending construction projects, “might impact somebody who had just lost a baby and was pregnant.”
Despite her concerns, Patel said she followed Wood’s direction that “Julie had to make that decision,” not Patel.
After Patel shortened her employment to a three-week project, court records show Veronese e-mailed Patel and Wood on Aug. 7, 2008, saying, “I can’t help but think that things have changed because I’m pregnant.”
A termination letter for Veronese was drafted the next day, court records show. Patel and Wood both testified that at the time, Veronese agreed with the decision.
“Julie and I mutually agreed that this wasn’t a good fit,” Patel said. “It ended really well.”
Veronese is asking for $677,000 in economic damages plus an unspecified amount for emotional distress.