A defense lawyer in the Waffle House sex tape case attempted to turn the tables and put company chairman Joe Rogers Jr. on trial Thursday for allegedly assaulting and sexually harassing longtime housekeeper Mye Brindle.
Sounding like plaintiffs’ lawyers in a sexual harassment case rather than defense counsel, attorneys for the former housekeeper of Rogers and her lawyers on Thursday attempted to paint the executive as an alleged serial harasser willing to lie under oath.
Attorneys defending Brindle and her two former lawyers, David Cohen and former Cobb County prosecutor John Butters, in their ongoing felony eavesdropping trial over the recording of a sex tape of Rogers sought to deflect Rogers’ earlier testimony that a 2012 sexual encounter with Brindle in the bedroom of his home was consensual.
Cohen, Butters, Brindle and their lawyers contend that Rogers sexually harassed and assaulted Brindle for nearly a decade while she worked as his housekeeper. Cohen’s attorney, Brian Steel, has argued that recording the secret sex tape was legal because it constituted evidence of a crime.
That recording became the basis for a demand letter Cohen sent Rogers that raised the specter of ruinous publicity if he did not privately settle Brindle’s harassment and sexual assault civil claims. Brindle’s lawyers sought as much as $12 million.
Cohen sent the demand letter after Brindle left her resignation letter in Rogers’ sock drawer. The resignation letter said, in part, “I can no longer bear the pain, humiliation and damage to my well-being from what you have demanded and required of me in this position. It has been unbearable.”
Steel put Rogers’ character on trial Thursday, citing a vacated court opinion accusing him of perjury, suborning perjury and bribery in a decades-old sexual harassment case against Texas Waffle House executives, and accused Rogers of groping a former housekeeper and nanny in 1994 as she gave him a massage.
Jimmy Berry, who represents Butters, questioned Rogers about an affair he had with another Waffle House executive that spanned nearly a decade while Rogers was married to two other women. Berry suggested the affair violated Waffle House’s harassment policies.
Steel spent more than three hours using the vacated judicial opinion to impeach Rogers after he testified he “never pursued anyone in an unwanted fashion.” Rogers was not a defendant in that case.
But, according to Steel, Chief Judge Jerry Buchmeyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas called out Rogers, in addition to Texas Waffle House executives, in his 1997 ruling.
Steel also sought to draw a parallel between Rogers’ insistence that his sexual interludes with Brindle were consensual, and his claims in the Texas case that a female employee welcomed the demeaning and occasionally vulgar comments flagged by the judge.
“You told this jury—20 years later—that Ms. Brindle participated in sexual contact with you and welcomed it,” Steel said. “The same thing that [Texas] judge said you lied about?”
Echoing Rogers’ description of Brindle’s video and her lawyers’ subsequent demand letter as “a setup and a shakedown,” Steel contended that Rogers referred to the Texas lawsuit as a “setup and a shakedown,” too.
“I never told anyone that,” Rogers replied.
Waffle House settled the Texas case for a reported $8 million. Steel claimed Rogers “paid money to hush it up.”
“Obviously, we didn’t hush up anything,” Rogers replied. “Things got messed up. Sometimes you have to pay that stupid tax and move on, because we had a business to run.”
Steel also contended Rogers groped a previous housekeeper married to one of his employees at least six years before Brindle was hired.
The incident, the lawyer said, took place at Rogers’ Colorado ranch during the 1990s. Steel claimed the encounter led to the young couple’s divorce because her husband, who managed Rogers’ house and grounds, begged her not to complain.
“You prey on people you can manipulate, that you have under your economic power,” Steel said.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Steel, but I don’t believe that,” Rogers said.
Steel also suggested Rogers has a reputation that, “No one says no to Joe, and that if employees step out of line, stand up to Joe … you crush them.”
Steel also contended that sexually servicing Rogers “was part of her duties, like cleaning your toilet. … Does she ever, ever show she is enjoying this?”
“I was stupid in what I did,” Rogers said. “I should not have continued … especially after Fran and I got married. I was wrong personally to do that to Fran.” But, he added, “I never had a sense I was doing something to Mye.”