Paul Allen's ex-bodyguard: 'I'd rather get shot at' than work for Vulcan
SEATTLE -- After years of acrimonious litigation, Vulcan Inc. has made onetime Paul Allen bodyguard Tracy Turner pay.
Turner was among 15 former bodyguards to leave the Seattle Seahawks owner's firm claiming rampant mistreatment, sexual harassment and illegal activity. Unlike the rest, Turner will have to pay her former employers $45,000 for their trouble.
A bodyguard with nearly two decades in the industry, Turner made allegations in line with those from her former colleagues - chiefly that Vulcan as led by CEO Jody Allen was ethically bankrupt-- when she sued the firm in 2011. The others, her boss included, settled with Vulcan or prevailed at arbitration.
Turner, though, lost her case before a private arbitrator after her attorney quit abruptly and she was denied time to hire a new lawyer. Broke and without counsel, Turner tried to drop the matter but the arbitration went on without her.
Initially judged to owe Vulcan more than $119,000 following the private trial she didn't attend, Turner turned down an offer from Vulcan to "walk away" from the arbitrator's award in exchange for her cooperation in any other litigation. A state judge later reduced the amount after attorneys for Turner tried to have the award tossed out, claiming Washington law protects against verdicts that punish workers for pursuing employee abuse lawsuits.
Turner and others claimed Vulcan forced them to give up their right to sue the company for malfeasance after a series of settlements with bodyguards to Allen and his sister, Vulcan CEO Jody Allen. That arbitration agreement cost Turner dearly.
Earlier in April, a King County Superior Court judge confirmed the arbitration award against Turner. Unless Turner pursues an appeal, that decision marks an end to the string of lawsuits brought against the Allens, which have seen allegations of bizarre behavior made against Jody Allen and, to a more limited degree, her Microsoft billionaire brother.
'Worse than being' in Afghanistan
Best known as owner of the Seahawks and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, Paul Allen co-founded Vulcan in 1986 with Jody Allen, who serves as the firm's president as well as CEO. Allen made his fortune after co-founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975.
Having led the redevelopment of South Lake Union, Vulcan will be responsible to remaking Yestler Terrace housing project with an eye toward gentrifying the southern slopes of First Hill. With the Alaskan Way Viaduct slated for demolition, Vulcan and other city business leaders are also working to mold Seattle's new waterfront.
Vulcan manages Paul Allen's investments and projects, including the Experience Music Project, the sports teams and his philanthropic efforts, which have amounted to $475 million in gifts.
A small piece of Vulcan, the executive protection team is staffed by elite security contractors paid to protect Paul and Jody Allen, as well as Jody Allen's children. Members of the team, which appears to have numbered between eight and 14 people in recent years, accompany the Allens when they travel and provide security for their properties, including Octopus, Paul Allen's 414-foot megayacht.
In depositions, the ex-Vulcan bodyguards - mostly former members of elite military units or law enforcement agencies - claimed Jody Allen smuggled animal bones out of Africa and Antarctica. Several said Jody Allen bought the men skimpy swimsuits and had them model for her, flirted relentlessly with several bodyguards and punished them all when she was rebuffed.
A soldier who'd left the executive protection team said he and other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans joked that working for Jody Allen was "worse than being over" there.
"I'd rather get shot at than do this," the veteran said during a Sept. 18, 2012, deposition.
Turner was among five former Vulcan bodyguards to sue the firm. Among the other plaintiffs were two Navy SEALs and Kathy Leodler, a former FBI special agent-in-charge hired to head the executive protection team.
Since then, Leodler and two other former bodyguards have settled their lawsuits out of court. The terms of the settlements were not disclosed.
Thomas RoseHaley - a former Vulcan bodyguard who, like Turner, was forced to go through private arbitration - was awarded $153,100. The lion's share -- $118,500 - went to pay his attorneys' fees. Though he found RoseHaley had been underpaid for overtime and after-hours work, arbitrator George Finkle denied most of the former Navy SEAL's claims of mistreatment.
"Mr. RoseHaley's resignation appears to have been substantially motivated by factors including a generally poor morale of the (executive protection) team, disgruntlement about overtime pay and what he saw as Vulcan's lack of appropriate respect for his work," Finkle said in his Nov. 14 decision.
Claiming she was subjected to sexual harassment, Turner attempted to pursue a lawsuit against Vulcan in state court. At Vulcan's insistence, though, her claims were heard by a private arbitrator due to an arbitration agreement she signed while working for the firm.
Hired on in January 2011, Turner was promoted to head of Paul Allen's security detail the following May. Turner signed an arbitration agreement on July 25, 2011, then resigned two months later.
"My ethics and morals are not aligned with those demonstrated by the Vulcan culture," Turner said in her resignation letter. "The acts I have witnessed and had to engage in to perform my job to the expectations of (Paul and Jody Allen) leave me with no choice."
Turner contended her complaints of sexual harassment and assault went unanswered by Vulcan management.
In court papers, Turner said she was forced into the arbitration agreement. Had she not signed it, she wouldn't have been able to do her job.
"As lead of Mr. Allen's (executive protection) team, I spent quite a bit of time around him and I observed that he was very unhappy about the actions of the former EP personnel," Turner said in May 2012.
"From my observations and my familiarity with Mr. Allen, I knew that he was serious about terminating anyone who did not sign the confidential arbitration agreement," she continued. "Because I knew that if I did not sign the arbitration agreement I would lose my job, I signed it."
Due to the arbitration agreement, Turner and Vulcan took their dispute to Carolyn Cairns, a Seattle employment attorney. As arbitrator, Cairns essentially acted as a private judge in the dispute.
Championed as a way to reduce the costs of litigation, private arbitration has been on the rise in recent years as employment and service contracts routinely include arbitration agreements. State law on the issue is mixed, but the contracts are generally enforced by Washington courts.
When such a contract is in place, the parties are required to resolve any claims through the secret process. Plaintiff's attorneys complain that the process lends an unfair advantage to corporate defendants, in part because they are arbitrators' repeat customers. Arbitration also sidelines the jury, which are regarded as sympathetic to individuals facing off against corporate defendants.
Weeks before arbitration was expected to begin, Turner's attorney quit and she found herself unable to pay her share of the arbitration fees - about $30,500.
According to court records, Turner asked Cairns to delay the proceedings. Cairns denied the request and did not provide even the brief pause Vulcan's attorneys suggested.
Without an attorney, Turner tried to abandon the matter in October 2012.
"I am not an attorney and simply don't know what I'm doing," Turner said in a letter to the arbitrator. "I fear I am only hurting myself by continuing in a process that requires years of schooling."
The arbitration went forward without her and resulted in a six-figure award for Vulcan.
While Turner was only found liable for $5,700 in relocation assistance payments made to her by Vulcan, she was also ordered to repay $113,235 in Vulcan's attorney fees and costs. Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe, who ultimately represented Turner and her four former colleagues, said the 42-year-old was "railroaded."
"It is beyond debate that in return for giving up the right to present her case in open court to a jury of her peers, with appellate review, (Turner) is entitled to an arbitrator who acts with basic fairness," Roe said in court papers. "In this case, the arbitrator acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner."
Vulcan offered not to collect on the judgment against Turner if she agreed to cooperate with the firm's attorneys. The judgment would hang over her, though, and Vulcan could see it imposed at any point.
In a letter sent to Turner on Jan. 31, 2013, Vulcan attorney Harry Schneider offered to pay an attorney of Turner's choosing to examine the settlement offer, which he then summarized.
"The essence of the proposed settlement is that Vulcan will 'walk away' from collecting any of the damages previously awarded by the arbitrator in return for your agreement to cooperate with Vulcan by testifying truthfully in other actions," Schneider said in the letter. He went on to note that any breach of the agreement would prompt a lawsuit by Vulcan.
That agreement, Roe said, was to remain secret even if Turner were deposed by others suing Vulcan. Turner declined.
In his April 1 decision, King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller reduced the judgment against Turner to $45,221. Roe had asked that the entire judgment be thrown out.
Ex-SEAL: 'You can't defend yourself'
While a change in the way the Allens' guards were paid coincided with the angry exodus from the protection team, former Vulcan employees deposed as part of the lawsuits described a sometimes hostile, often strange working environment.
Many of those interviewed during the litigation were among the 10 former bodyguards who privately settled claims of mistreatment prior to the lawsuits. In excerpts of depositions filed with the court, the team members claim Jody Allen made inappropriate sexual advances to her security detail.
Writing the court, Roe said Jody Allen has been harassing security officers since at least 2009, when she began pursuing a member of her protection detail. By the security officers' telling, Jody Allen took her anger out on the entire team with the man left Vulcan.
Suing his former employer, Ramon Sandoval - a former Navy SEAL who was working as an armed contractor in Afghanistan when he was hired by Vulcan - compared working with Jody Allen to being captured in the Taliban.
"This lady, Jody, you can't say - you can't defend yourself," Sandoval said during a deposition. "You can attempt to defend yourself over there and that's a combat zone. You are mentally ready for that. This is a corporate world."
In depositions, former security officers not involved in the lawsuits said Jody Allen once stripped to her underwear and jumped into a hot tub before telling her security to do the same in the nude.
As Vulcan's de facto head of human resources, Jody Allen, 56, is second only to her brother at the privately held corporation. Having joined Vulcan in 1989, Jody Allen has been instrumental in managing her brother's fortune, Vulcan's primary purpose.
Casting her as a petulant, demanding boss, her former bodyguards said complaints regarding Jody Allen's behavior went nowhere.
Deposed on last May, one former security officer made light of an incident at the Allens' chateau in France during which Jody Allen bought high-cut swim suits for her security officers. A Vulcan human resources manager later described the gift of trunks as "inappropriate."
He went on to say that the bodyguards were "the entertainment" at the chateau during Jody Allen's summer stays there. The former security officer said Jody Allen would often party until dawn and sleep until 2 p.m.
The former bodyguard described Jody Allen as "playing junior high school girl games," asking to see his war wounds and often threatening to fire him. He also said he would have been fired had he reported her overtures to Vulcan human resources.
"HR was not someplace you could go within Vulcan and your stuff would be held confidential," he said during the deposition.
Another former bodyguard said Jody was dismissive of the military service of those she paid to protect her and her children.
"She would continually say stuff like, 'Oh, well, you guys are SEALs. You think you're so special? You guys aren't. You know that. You didn't really do anything,'" the retired Navy SEAL said in a July 23, 2013 deposition. "In essence, (she was) taking what I'd wanted to do since I was 12 years old and telling me it was crap.
"I took my life, my soul, and gave to my country, (and) was lucky enough to come back from war twice," he continued. "To have someone demean me and tell me that it was worthless, so that she could sit and not have to worry about her life because I was out there, yeah, (it was) extremely demeaning."
Bones smuggled out of Africa, Antarctica
Hired on in January 2012, Sandoval's first experience with Jody Allen was a three-week trip to Antarctica aboard Paul Allen's yacht.
Other former bodyguards previously alleged Jody Allen smuggled penguin bones out of Antarctica during an earlier trip, and had giraffe bones taken out of Africa.
Through the lawsuits, the former bodyguards claimed Jody Allen illegally brought home penguin bones and skulls from Antarctica during a February 2011 trip there aboard the Allen yacht. They claimed Jody Allen expected security officers to pay customs and immigration officials to "expedite the process."
In a memo, a security officer noted that they were able to make sure "the penguin bones that JA picked up in Antarctica were boxed and put on the plane without being scanned at customs." Jody Allen emailed her nanny looking for a penguin skull that went missing during the return from Antarctica; a friend apparently wanted to make jewelry with it.
In August 2011, U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors seized and destroyed 72 pounds of giraffe bones belonging to Vulcan, according to a USDA report. The security officers say Jody Allen had the bones smuggled out of Botswana in an operation that saw a guide questioned by police and bribes paid.
"I am not sure if you are even aware of the fact that I spent four hours at the Maun Police station yesterday, taking the rap on behalf of (Paul and Jody Allen) for trying to illegally export wild animal bones from Botswana?" a guide hired by the Allens said in an email that made its way to Vulcan security.
"This is a serious offense and could have become very nasty if the police actually realized that the principles(sic) were in Maun. Please make sure that nobody in the group ever removes bones and certainly never broken ivory from the camps, regardless of the country as this is a criminal offense in most places."
Speaking under oath, one security officer said he told Vulcan management Jody Allen was smuggling ivory but declined to answer questions regarding whether he saw ivory in Jody Allen's luggage.
The incident prompted Leodler to conduct an investigation that left her concerned her team was being asked to bribe foreign officials, falsify customs declarations and smuggle protected items.
"I met with (a Vulcan attorney) and complained that such criminal activity placed the team and ultimately the company at risk," the former FBI agent said in a statement to the court. "I warned (him) ... that Jody Allen was going to bring the company down.
"I told (him) if the owners did not want the government 'in their knickers,' they needed to talk to Jody Allen and tell her to quit the illegal conduct."
Interviewed under oath during the litigation, Leodler said security officers bought cocaine and marijuana for Jody and Paul Allen, and bribed officials in Argentina and France. She also outlined allegations of smuggling and marijuana use while the Allens were visiting Botswana.
Deposed as part of the lawsuit, Jody Allen invoked her right not to incriminate herself when questioned about smuggling, bribery and customs fraud. Seven former bodyguards did the same.
"Have you ever given false information on a customs declaration?" an attorney for the former security officers asked.
"On the advice of counsel, I reluctantly invoke my Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against myself and refuse to answer," Jody Allen replied.
A Vulcan spokeswoman previously declined to respond to the allegations in detail. Attorneys for the Allens have issued a blanket denial of all claims of wrongdoing.
Sandoval, who has since settled with the Allens, contended Jody Allen often made inappropriate sexual comments to or about her security officers, including him.
By Sandoval's account, Jody Allen told a guest she would have the men strip at an Antarctic hot spring to see how they would look in the cold. Sandoval said she was staring at him when she made the suggestion.
The former security officer said Jody Allen grew angry with him when he assisted women on the trip. He said in court papers she said she needed a "boy toy," insinuating he could take that role.
"He'd been through POW school with simulated waterboarding, and simulated capture and survival," Roe said in court papers. "But it didn't prepare him for working with Jody Allen."
Sandoval left after three months with Vulcan, complaining of his treatment there as well as changes in pay structure that reduced his wages. He and Vulcan reached a settlement in early March; details of that settlement were not disclosed.