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Oracle Corp. and its CEO Larry Ellison are back in court, this time accused of age discrimination and denying $20 million in stock options to an executive. Randy Baker was hired in 1993 as a vice president for providing Oracle customers worldwide with technical services. Baker, 56, claims he was harassed and subjected to derogatory comments by Ellison because of his age. He says the treatment culminated in firing. In a motion for summary judgment in Baker v. Oracle, 311903, the Redwood Shores, Calif., software company’s attorney, Jeffrey Wohl, asked San Francisco Judge David Garcia to throw out the case. In an order issued Nov. 9, Garcia refused to toss out the age discrimination and stock options allegations. He did bar other causes of action, such as Baker’s claim that his was a hostile work environment and that Oracle breached its implied contract with him. Last week Wohl filed a petition for a writ with the California First District Court of Appeal to challenge Garcia’s ruling that there are issues of fact that can be tried. “As an at-will employee, he can’t make a claim under the covenant of good and fair dealing and public policy” for his stock options, said Wohl, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in San Francisco. Baker’s attorney, Alan Exelrod, a partner at Rudy, Exelrod & Zieff in San Francisco, said that by firing his client before he could formally retire, Oracle denied him the right to vest all of his stock options. Exelrod said Baker also claimed that he was denied full wages and bonuses promised him by Oracle. Garcia’s order rejected this cause of action, saying there were no issues that could be tried. This case is Exelrod’s second employment complaint against Oracle over the past year and a half. In August 2000, the Rudy Exelrod & Zieff name partner won a $2.7 million jury verdict that found Oracle fired one of its executives for blowing the whistle on the Silicon Valley’s firms alleged piracy of a German’s company’s trade secrets. The jury awarded Sandy Baratta lost wages and the amount of stock options that she would have received if she had not been fired, but denied her punitive damages. Garcia allowed Baker and his attorneys, Exelrod and Robert Vantress, a partner at the Silicon Valley Law Group, to pursue punitive damages when their case goes to trial March 11. In court papers filed by Baker’s lawyers, Ellison was described as having “an abnormal fascination with youth.” “He would rather hire and work with 25-year-olds than experienced executives,” the complaint said. “He is also literally spending millions searching for the fountain of youth, or at least drugs that will stop or slow the aging process.” It added that Ellison referred to older employees such as Baker as “old Tandem farts.” Prior to working for Oracle, Baker was employed by Tandem Computers. Baker’s lawyers said one reason to prevent an employee from exercising stock options is to avoid “a negative impact on Oracle’s earnings per share.” They said Ellison’s own compensation was tied to the firm’s bottom line. “Oracle has a pattern and practice of terminating top executives to prevent their stock options from vesting,” Exelrod claimed. In opposition papers, Oracle’s Wohl argued that Baker’s work record showed he was not implementing Ellison’s orders to hold down costs by hiring more personnel than necessary. “Among other goals, Ellison wanted to increase the efficiency and profitability of Oracle’s businesses in order to increase shareholder value,” Wohl said. “Through a series of exchanges with plaintiff, however, it became apparent to Ellison and Oracle Executive Vice President Gary Bloom … that plaintiff was actively resisting the changes they wanted.” Bloom, a co-defendant in the case, has left Oracle and is now the CEO of Veritas Software Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. Wohl also said that Baker had gained a small fortune from his salary and stock options that he had earlier cashed in. “In addition to what he had already realized from exercise and sale options, over the course of his employment with Oracle plaintiff realized a gain of more than $35 million,” Oracle’s attorney asserted.

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