Ex Radio Star Piolin Accuses Former Staffers of Extortion
A former Univision radio star is suing a group of his former staffers, alleging they threatened to sue him for sex harassment if he didn’t pay them $5 million. Eduardo “Piolin” Sotelo says that any harassment claims would be barred, and that the defendants knew they had no legal leg to stand on when they threatened him.
The former star of Univision’s “Piolin Por La Mañana” filed suit on Aug. 26, saying that six former employees of the show committed civil extortion when they called and wrote him last week to demand the money. Piolin and SiriusXM had just announced the launch of a new Spanish-language channel.
The defendants reportedly offered to refrain from making allegations of sexual harassment and workplace humiliation against Piolin. But three of the defendants are admittedly time-barred by the statute of limitations from making any claims, and the other three had previously signed agreements waiving the right to bring any claims against Piolin or Univision.
Piolin also sued a law firm, Taylor & Ring, which represents one of the former employees who initially made the accusations of harassment in a demand letter to Univision.
In addition to civil extortion, he also alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Some Threats Are OK
California’s civil extortion cause of action is based on its criminal statute, says Christopher Adishian, a lawyer with the Adishian Law Group, PC in El Segundo, Calif. For Piolin to succeed on his civil extortion claim, he would have to prove that his former employees tried to obtain property from him by wrongfully using force or fear.
That fear must come from a threat to do “unlawful injury” to the plaintiff, to accuse him of a crime or other “disgrace,” or to expose a secret that affects him.
“The key is the threat of an unlawful injury,” Adishian explains. “The threat of a lawful injury would not be extortion. Threats to do only what [the] party making them has legal right to do are not unlawful.”
In Piolin’s case, because the claims the former employees were threatening to make were either time-barred or barred by a previous settlement, he is likely arguing that threats to bring those claims would amount to an unlawful injury. The defendants will likely say they were threatening a lawful injury.
“People can ‘threaten’ lawful injury or ‘threaten’ to take lawful actions against another. They just cannot threaten unlawful actions,” Adishian notes.
Piolin brought in the law firm because it was the former employees’ lawyer who allegedly made the threat to sue. Under normal circumstances they have the right to do that, since there is a “litigation privilege” that works as a complete defense to extortion, Adishian says. But the privilege is not absolute.
“Here, the allegation seems to be that the defense lawyer knowingly made demands pertaining to claims that he knows were either settled or clearly time barred,” he explains. “The former would seem to present more of a substantive basis for plaintiff’s position, as there may be rational, reasonable arguments that could be made about the statute of limitations being tolled.”
Lawyers must also be careful not to violate their Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibit threatening criminal charges to get an advantage in a civil dispute, he adds.
Ripe for Settlement?
As to the likelihood that Piolin will succeed in his attempt to shut down his former staffers in their alleged attempt at extortion, Adishian says it’s hard to say.
“You never know on any one case,” he says. “However, statistics overwhelmingly show that cases settle. It is just a matter of when, at what cost and on what terms.”
But the lawyer representing the staffers reportedly said on Aug. 26 that they will file their lawsuits against Piolin anyway.
“This lawsuit is a public relations ploy by Eddie Sotelo to deflect attention from the merits of the allegations of Sotelo’s harrassing and abusive conduct towards six of his former co-workers,” said the lawyer. “The lawsuits speak for themselves and will be filed soon.”