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Oracle Corp. vice president Sandy Baratta was five months pregnant and humming along in her high-tech career when her stock options and six-figure salary evaporated. Baratta, 39, was waiting at San Francisco International Airport in April 1999 to board a plane for a business meeting in France when she was told her ticket had been canceled and she should call Oracle. When she phoned, Baratta was told her employment was terminated, she no longer could access her voice mail or e-mail and she was persona non grata at Oracle’s Redwood Shores, Calif., business campus. “I thought I was a doing a real good job at Oracle, and then out of the blue, I was fired,” Baratta told a jury in the courtroom of San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Munter on Tuesday. “It was just awful.” Baratta is suing Oracle for wrongful termination, breach of good faith, and fiduciary duty and retaliation. In the process, her case is providing a glimpse into the increasingly complicated world of employment law for high-tech executives. In her suit, Baratta has lashed back at her former employer by accusing Oracle of pirating a German competitor’s R\3 computer system to boost its own products and firing her when she insisted on an investigation of Oracle’s access to the German company’s software. But Linda Shostak, Oracle’s defense attorney, told jurors Oracle fired Baratta not because of her whistle-blowing, but instead for creating an “unbearable” work environment as she sought to win promotions through pressure tactics on other employees who she asked to write e-mails extolling her skills. “The evidence will show that Oracle’s reason for terminating plaintiff’s employment had nothing to do with retaliation and everything to do with her misconduct,” said Shostak, a partner at San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster. Baratta worked for Oracle for about two and a half years, coming onboard in 1996 after a brief career in sales with a smaller computer firm. She rose quickly to vice president of global alliances, where her job was to manage Oracle’s business relationships with worldwide competitors, including Germany’s SAP, which had a reseller agreement with the Silicon Valley firm. Baratta’s lawyer, Alan Exelrod, a partner at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & True in San Francisco, said her fast-lane career path appeared in jeopardy in April 1999, when Oracle executives decided that the cooperative application initiative group, also known as CAI, would no longer report to Baratta but instead to another vice president, Jay Peretz. Shostak said in her trial brief that Baratta ordered Prakash Balebail, the head of CAI, to write an e-mail to Oracle senior officials “opposing the reassignment, denigrating Peretz and lobbying for” herself. Baratta denies ordering such an e-mail. Exelrod said the situation deteriorated when Baratta became pregnant. She became fearful after she talked with Gary Bloom, an Oracle executive vice president, about other women executives who were pregnant. “Plaintiff did not reveal her own pregnancy to Bloom during this conversation because, based on his comments, she was concerned that it could hurt her career,” Exelrod’s trial brief stated. When Bloom signed off on Baratta’s firing, Oracle executives say they tried to contact her before she was scheduled to fly to Nice, France, but were unable to reach her. “She was fired from her career at Oracle from a public pay phone at the San Francisco airport,” Exelrod told jurors. “She woke up in the morning as a vice president . . . and now Oracle was firing her.” Exelrod detailed for jurors how he alleges Oracle pirated the intellectual property of SAP, a competitor that was also Oracle’s largest worldwide reseller. He said Oracle sent Jan Klokkers, a company techie, to SAP’s German headquarters to work with the foreign company. Once he was connected, other Oracle technical personnel used their company “intranet from their base in Redwood Shores to enter the computer of Jan Klokkers,” Exelrod said. “The team then accessed the R/3 suite on SAP’s system as if they were Klokkers, essentially hacking into the system three times a week.” In March 1999, Oracle announced that it would begin licensing its own R/3-compatible customer relationship management software. “Oracle viewed CRM as critical to Oracle’s future, as CRM would have the ability to generate large sums of revenue in the future,” Baratta’s attorney asserted. “Oracle also believed that . . . SAP customers would be attracted to Oracle’s CRM products and possibly to other Oracle products as well.” Exelrod argued that when Baratta raised concerns in an e-mail that the pirating of SAP property could open Oracle up to “legal exposure,” she stepped on the slippery slope that would lead to her termination. He said Oracle “has offered no credible reason for terminating” Baratta, whose e-mails were deleted the day she got fired. “Oracle now contends that the e-mail cannot be retrieved, although some e-mail has been retrieved during discovery,” Exelrod said. Shostak argued that Oracle was asked by SAP to bring its technical support team to Germany and that SAP allowed the American firm to install its own computers at the Walldorf plant. “SAP gave Oracle the R/3 software to install in Oracle’s computers in Walldorf,” she told jurors. “SAP helped Klokkers hook up the software to Oracle’s worldwide network.” However, Shostak conceded that “there was never anything written down” concerning SAP inviting Oracle to download its software. “SAP never made a claim that Oracle violated any agreement. It never suggested that Oracle broke any laws.” Moreover, Shostak said Oracle’s Klokkers is “still sitting in Walldorf, Germany, working with SAP engineers.” Baratta said she had been making up to $350,000 a year plus stock options. She now works as consultant to Newmoon Systems, a San Jose, Calif., startup that hosts applications on the Internet, for $1,100 a day, with no stock options.

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