Name and title: Antone Johnson, vice president for legal affairs
Online matchmaker: eHarmony.com Inc., based in Pasadena, Calif., is a leading online service devoted to matching compatible singles seeking long-term relationships. It has 18 million registered users from all 50 states and more than 200 countries. It purports to enroll 10,000 to 15,000 newcomers daily and claims a success rate of 45 marriages per day. In 2006, interactive eHarmony Marriage was initiated to offer an online “marriage wellness” program to couples.
The privately held firm was launched in 2000 by clinical psychologist, relationship expert and author Neil Clark Warren. It has 250 employees and claims annual sales approaching $200 million.
Daily duties: Johnson, who called himself “definitely a generalist,” attends to a broad mix of duties as manager of eHarmony’s legal and regulatory affairs. In the course of a standard week, much of his time is consumed advising senior management on legal issues including copyright, privacy, defamation and spamming. He provides “hands-on” legal expertise in negotiations, drafting and “reviewing all manner of things.” Project management, government affairs and privacy issues all receive Johnson’s attention, as does the administration of company stock and contracts. As a member of senior management, he advises on some nonlegal matters.
“The specter of Sarbanes-Oxley looms over us,” Johnson said. Accordingly, eHarmony is “forever” shoring up its governance and compliance efforts in anticipation of going public in the future, he said. “We don’t want to be a private company forever.”
Johnson has found it ever more important to become well versed in foreign laws. Earlier this year, eHarmony launched a localized version of its site in Canada, and Johnson collaborated with Canadian counsel in a top-to-bottom review of relevant Canadian law. Although those operations are administered from the U.S. side of the border, the company has been investigating launching operations abroad.
Given the nature of eHarmony’s business and the delicacy of customers’ personal data, privacy issues are of critical importance. The company employs more than 100 customer care agents — some internal, others outsourced — to keep abreast of constantly changing legal protections for members’ privacy and security.
Johnson reports directly to Chief Executive Officer Gregory L. Waldorf.
Chosen path: Johnson said that he was attracted to eHarmony by the rapidly evolving business and legal issues inherent in the Internet. He sees himself as being at the intersection of intellectual property, privacy, commercial and consumer protection law. “The mission is very distinctive,” he said. “It’s e-commerce business, yet fundamentally about doing good for the world. The results are tangible when we succeed.”
Disharmony: On May 30, eHarmony was sued in Los Angeles Superior Court for its alleged refusal to offer its services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Lawyers for Linda Carlson, a lesbian from Northern California who was denied access, are seeking class certification.
eHarmony denies any illegal discrimination, insisting that “the research that eHarmony has developed … has been based on traits and personality patterns of successful heterosexual marriages.” Johnson emphasized that the company strives for diversity in membership, advertising and recruitment.
eHarmony has patented its compatibility matching system, which it describes as a scientific approach to matching singles based on 35 years of empirical and clinical research. The company is searching for additional technologies to patent. Johnson noted that the online dating site, as a growing tech company and well-known brand, is becoming the target of patent trolls. It has defended multiple suits “related to widely used tech infrastructure in the Internet industry.” A Johnson career highlight was getting a competitor to withdraw an “egregious” false and/or misleading patent claim before the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau. “It is rare to play offense rather than defense as corporate counsel,” he said.
Legal team and outside counsel: Johnson manages a compact legal group consisting of one other attorney, a paralegal and a law clerk, and he frequently calls upon outside counsel. His main outside firm is Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, primarily for corporate issues and intellectual property litigation. Others include Heller Ehrman (some IP work) and San Francisco-based Littler Mendelson (employment). In Canada, Johnson seeks the counsel of Toronto-based business law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. He favors DLA Piper for other international matters.
Route to present position: Johnson said that legal training he received at top-tier firms, tempered with “a ton of wisdom that people in the business world pick up on,” were essential to his rise to eHarmony’s top legal position. He began his career with two years at the Los Angeles office of New York’s Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, focusing on corporate securities and mergers and acquisitions. Next came a comparable stint with Palo Alto, Calif.’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
In 2000, Johnson moved in-house at Excite@Home, a short-lived San Francisco Bay Area Internet company. He concentrated on M&A and corporate development. Two years later, he moved to Los Angeles, serving as director of legal affairs for Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. and accruing valuable compliance expertise. His next stop was Intermix Media Inc., where he performed as assistant general counsel for the firm that developed MySpace.com. His practice was broad, encompassing the corporate, commercial, intellectual property, M&A and securities fields. He joined eHarmony in 2006.
Personal: Johnson, a native of Falls Church, Va., lives with his wife, Rima, in Los Angeles. Outside of work, he is a singer and keyboardist for a rock band. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. (1993), and a juris doctorate from Columbia Law School (1996).
Last book and movie: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.