By Gary Flood Who needs J.R. when you have Larry Ellison? Hot on the heels of his lovelorn appeal on Oprah, the 52-year old head of Oracle Corp spent three hours on the witness stand in a San Mateo, Californian court yesterday, facing sometimes extremely personal questions regarding how a failed romantic relationship with one […]
By Gary Flood
Who needs J.R. when you have Larry Ellison? Hot on the heels of his lovelorn appeal on Oprah, the 52-year old head of Oracle Corp spent three hours on the witness stand in a San Mateo, Californian court yesterday, facing sometimes extremely personal questions regarding how a failed romantic relationship with one of his ex-employees became a legal matter. How she became an ex – in both senses – is very much the nub of the dispute, indeed. One time Oracle administrative assistant Adelyn Lee, now 33, was fired from the company, an event all parties agree on. The plot thickens, soap-opera style, as to whether she was removed from the employee role because she and the CEO had just ended a two- year relationship five days before. In November 1993 Lee charged Oracle with unfair dismissal, alleging she was fired in effect for refusing to sleep with Ellison on that last date. Lee and Oracle settled a wrongful termination suit out of court for $100,000 three years ago. Ellison then counter-sued. Lee is now having her turn in the legal spotlight, charged as she is with perjury, falsifying evidence and computer network invasion (for allegedly faking the e-mail message implying Ellison had ordered her sacked). Her attorney spent some time, in the words of The San Jose Mercury in trying to depict Ellison as a manipulative womanizer who dangled gifts in front of Lee to gain her affections. Central to the case are some 20-odd transcript pages of e-mail messages Lee and Ellison exchanged during their on-off 18-month affair. The Deputy District Attorney used these to paint an unflattering picture of Lee, as a young woman with something of a gold-digger attitude. She asked Ellison for a $150,000 loan to move to a nicer place and play the stock market, to which Ellison responded, rather sweetly, via e-mail: How about dinner instead? and Yes of course, I will buy you an [Acura] NSX [sportscar] and anything else you want, a home in Woodside, a Gulfstream jet, the Hope Diamond, the General Electric Co., which is quite expensive, even dinner on Friday. Ellison told the court he thought his former partner naive for thinking she could make money easily in the stock market, later adding her requests for gifts of expensive cars and watches as aggressive and unconventional. But reports claim Ellison appeared flustered when asked about the circumstances around her last date, the night of April 16, 1993. In her original lawsuit Lee stated that Ellison became angry because she wasn’t in the mood for sexual intercourse, and that he threatened to fire her over it. Ellison denied ever threatening her, though he revealed he already knew that night that Lee was about to be fired but didn’t tell her. Had I asked to have Adelyn Lee to be fired (for that), she would not have been fired, I would have been fired . . . by the board of directors, he retorted. This is the ’90s, and courts look dimly on sexism and racism, he said later. Chief executives who engage in that have a very short job life. Ellison was then asked to read aloud an e-mail allegedly from Lee’s superior, Craig Ramsey, to Ellison, dated April 22, 1993, which said: I have fired Adelyn per your request. This e-mail is the one Lee is accused of breaking into the Oracle system and faking and then making much use of in sworn court documents, forming the main crux of her wrongful termination suit. Ellison immediately electrically replied: Are you out of your mind? I did not request that you terminate Adelyn. This is a most bizarre note.And in yet another twist worthy of South Fork, Lee’s attorney, Gordon Rockhill, is trying to prove Ellison had the motivation and technical know-how to frame Lee by faking this e- mail. But the testimony if anything looks more damaging to Lee than the alleged playboy billionaire. For example, Lee tells Ellison after a conversation in an Oracle HQ lift, I hope that the comment about the Ferrari was not misunderstood. I’d like to have a spin in it, not have it. Forgive me if I was too forward for asking. To which Ellison gallantly replies, Not only will I be happy to take you for a ride, but you are welcome to take a turn at the wheel. Ellison, who admitted seeing other women while dating Lee, denied Lee’s lawyer’s suggestions that he dangled his wealth to lead on his conquests. Does any of this matter? In a sense, no: whatever Larry Ellison does with his spare time is of no consequence in terms of the direction of Oracle Corp. But given that Ellison assiduously spent 1996 promoting himself as a media icon replacement for Bill Gates, a loss in this case might tarnish his shiny new image. The case will be cause for discussion in many a Silicon Valley pub this week, of that there is no doubt.