George Lucas is one of about 30 witnesses expected to testify in Veronese vs. Lucasfilm Ltd
Filmmaker George Lucas must testify before a jury in a gender discrimination suit filed by a former job prospect at his company, a Marin County judge ruled Wednesday in a setback for the defense team.
In a fiercely argued hearing before Judge Lynn O'Malley Taylor, lawyers for the entertainment magnate fought to keep Lucas off the witness stand, saying he had no involvement in the "hiring or firing" of the plaintiff, Julie Gilman Veronese.
"He simply never heard of the woman," said Robert Lieber, one of several lawyers representing Lucasfilm Ltd.
"That's simply not true, and we have a right to ask Mr. Lucas about it," said Veronese's co-counsel, Angela Alioto, who is also the plaintiff's mother-in-law.
Lucasfilm's legal team said the filmmaker, at most, should appear for a closed hearing in Taylor's chambers so the judge can decide whether he has relevant information to offer the jury. But Veronese's lawyers argued that such a hearing would give Lucas a special treatment not extended to other witnesses in most litigation.
The judge ruled that Lucas must take the stand personally. A key issue is whether Lucas was a "percipient witness" to either the alleged discrimination itself, or any retaliation that might have followed.
"If he knows nothing then he knows nothing," Taylor said. "They can bring him in."
The ruling was one in a flurry of pre-trial decisions ahead of opening statements on Monday. The jury was seated this week following several days of
Lucas' appearance has yet to be scheduled. His lawyers said he will be out of the country next week for his daughter's wedding, and approximately 30 other witnesses are expected to testify during the trial.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed last spring, an employment recruiter working for Lucasfilm contacted Veronese in April 2008 about a job at Lucas' residence in San Anselmo. The full-time position was described as "assistant to the estate manager," the lawsuit says.
Veronese, 37, claims the job offer was revoked when the company found out she was pregnant. The lawsuit alleges gender discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and failure to investigate and prevent discrimination.
Lucasfilm has denied the allegations. A company spokeswoman said previously that the job was a 30-day project position, and that both Veronese and Lucasfilm ultimately agreed it "wasn't a good fit."
While most civil lawsuits are settled before an expensive trial, Veronese and Lucasfilm are going to full-blown war with considerable resources at their disposal.
Veronese is backed by the Angela Alioto Law Group, a San Francisco firm that specializes in multi-million-dollar discrimination and employment law cases. Angela Alioto is a former San Francisco supervisor and the daughter of former mayor Joseph Alioto. Veronese is also being represented by her husband, Joseph Alioto Veronese, a member of the family firm and a former state Senate candidate.
Lucasfilm's legal team, in addition to in-house employment counsel, includes Lieber and Ilana Pearlman of Margolis & Tilman, LLP, of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, and Janine Simerly of the Miller Law Group, a San Francisco-based firm specializing in employment litigation.