Jim Phillips says he and his staff had a lot of laughs while he was an independent contractor for Guarantee Real Estate.
He admitted he used a ruler for what he called "poking and prodding" his employees. And he also admits that he took it too far with one woman in his office. Janna Barosso got an immediate impression of her boss when she started working for Jim Phillips at his northwest Fresno real estate office in July 2009.
"He's the kind of boss that teases and jokes around with his staff quite a bit, but takes it way overboard," said Barosso.
Barosso says she had to confront Phillips when he tickled her on her first day at work. But she says it didn't work -- the uncomfortable work environment only got worse as Phillips used a ruler to spank employees. Barosso says she got fed up and hid the ruler one day. That's when she says Phillips lost control. "Basically mounted me face forward, right on my lap," she said. "(He) just pinned me into my chair and was trying to get out of me where I'd hidden the yardstick."
Phillips didn't want to talk on camera, but he admitted to Action News that much of what Barosso claims is true. "I did sit on her," he said. "I did tickle her. I admit to that."
Phillips also said he apologized and thought everyone had moved on. But Barosso says his behavior never changed. "I had expected everything to come to a halt and it didn't," she said.
Barosso and Phillips disagree over whether she quit or was fired, but soon after she left, she filed a civil lawsuit against Phillips and Guarantee Real Estate.
ABC-30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it looks like she has a good case, but he's not sure she can win against Guarantee because Phillips was an independent contractor.
The real estate company's attorney says he's confident it will be dropped from the case since Barosso never actually worked for Guarantee. But Barosso's attorney has a lot of experience with harassment cases, including some involving spanking.
Butch Wagner won a $1.7 million settlement for another client four years ago after she was spanked at work. "I've been doing sex harassment cases for about 20 years and at this point nothing really surprises me," said Wagner.
Phillips moved from Guarantee to London Properties as an independent contractor just before Barosso filed the lawsuit. He's never had any similar complaints against him in almost 20 years in real estate. He told Action News the lawsuit will probably force him to file for bankruptcy, but he'll keep his office open.