Allegations of employee theft, retaliation and female harassment at Swire: lawsuit
Yelenis Jimenez was terminated for allegedly sending proprietary information to her personal email address without the company’s knowledge or permission.
A year after two ex-employees sued Swire Properties for discrimination, the Brickell City Centre developer is facing more internal turmoil following the dismissal of an accounting manager. She’s accused of stealing the company’s trade secrets after complaining about a high-ranking executive harassing women in his office.
In a recently filed lawsuit, Swire is accusing Yelenis Jimenez, who was hired as an accounting manager in June 2013 and was fired on Aug.1, of sending more than three dozen files containing “confidential and proprietary information” belonging to Swire to her personal email address over a three-year period beginning in 2016. Swire is seeking a court order that would force Jimenez to turn over her personal computer and personal email account for a forensic investigation.
However, Jimenez claimed Swire falsely accused her of “improper and unlawful” activities because she complained to human resources roughly a year ago about her then-supervisor, Thomas Chan, mistreating female employees, according to an Aug. 2 letter she wrote that was included as an exhibit to the lawsuit.
Jimenez’s lawyer Augusto Lopez said he could not immediately comment because he had not yet received permission from his client. Through a spokesperson, Swire declined comment about Jimenez’s human resources complaint about Chan, who is now the finance manager for the company’s East, Miami hotel at Brickell City Centre. In a statement, Swire contends Jimenez gave the company no choice but to sue her.
“As detailed in our complaint, we made numerous attempts to retrieve stolen company property from Ms. Jimenez,” Swire’s statement said. “Unfortunately, she refused, and as a last resort, we took action to protect and retrieve Swire trade secrets and other confidential information. We are hopeful we can quickly resolve this matter.”
Swire is also locked in legal battles with two other Hispanic ex-employees. Erika Tejada, who was an assistant human resources manager, and Efren Ales, who was executive at Swire responsible for the management and oversight of all elements of Brickell City Centre, filed separate lawsuits in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last year accusing Swire of getting rid of them because of their “Hispanic emotionalism.” Tejada and Ales allege Swire violated Florida’s civil rights act.
In the latest lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Swire claims it was alerted to Jimenez’s alleged improper activities by a “newly installed upgraded security system” that flagged 32 instances of her sending confidential and proprietary documents to her personal email account between June 2, 2016 and July 16. On Aug. 1, the day she was fired, Jimenez could not provide a reasonable explanation for why she needed to send the documents to her personal email account, the lawsuit alleges.
Arlene Kline, an Akerman partner representing Swire, gave Jimenez a deadline of Aug. 2 to return the documents, delete and destroy any copied documents, sign an affidavit that she ceased sharing confidential information with third parties and submit her personal computer, cell phone and other electronic devices for a forensic inspection.
The same day, Jimenez wrote back to Kline stating that she sent herself the documents so she could work on Swire projects from home and vehemently denied that she was sharing trade secrets with third parties. Jimenez claimed that her repeated requests for a work-issued laptop were ignored, forcing her to send work-related documents to her personal computer and email account.
Jimenez accused Kline of “treating her like a criminal” and that signing the affidavit and agreeing to the lawyer’s other demands would force her to “admit to things that aren’t true.” She closed her letter by alleging Swire was accusing her of wrongdoing as cover for her complaints about Chan, who she noted is “related by marriage to Linda Chu, Swire’s CFO.”
“Months ago, I complained to HR about my boss, Thomas Chan’s, confrontational behavior and remarks toward women,” Jimenez wrote. “As a result, he was going to be sent to ‘sensitivity training,’ and shortly thereafter, he was ‘promoted’…away from the women he harassed and who complained about him. I was fired in retaliation.”