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san diegan files multi-million dollar suit against cingular wireless

{ BY JONATHAN YOUNG } A Southern California telecommunications company has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Cingular Wireless, claiming breach of contract, fraud and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

Sonic TCM, Inc., which has offices in San Diego, Santa Maria and Riverside, was contracted by Opus Engineering, a subcontractor of Cingular, in January, 2004 to provide site acquisition, zoning, architectural, engineering, construction and development of approximately 176 antenna sites throughout Orange County, according to court documents. The business arrangement ended in September of that year when Sonic alleges Opus and Cingular refused to uphold their end of the contract.

The claim was filed in October 2004 in the Orange County Superior Court. The case goes to trial on Dec. 5.

According to the claim, representatives of Opus threatened to bar Sonic from future contracts or bid opportunities, including the projects already granted to Sonic, unless Sonic agreed to exclude Lisa Marcaurelle, Sonic Vice President and San Diego resident, from working on the projects. Sonic believes that these threats were made because Marcaurelle is a female and a lesbian.

Court documents cite John Kelly and Kevin Herring, both Opus managers, making derogatory comments about Marcaurelle to John Milisitz, Sonic President and CEO.

"You can't bring that bulldog dyke if you want a chance at this project. Her voice makes me want to throw up," was one comment allegedly made by Kelly. One of Herring's alleged comments was, "I thought I made it clear to you that I don't want that lesbian bitch on my project. You won't get another bid if she shows up again."

Marcaurelle said that these comments were never made to her directly, but to Milisitz and at meetings in front of other Sonic staff members.

"John Kelly is an interesting character," she said. "To my face, he's charming, but the second I turn my back, he was calling me a dyke."

The discrimination allegation also claims that Opus barred Marcaurelle from project meetings and refused to allow her to be involved in servicing Cingular's account in any way. Sonic, in its attempt to keep their part of the agreement, claims this increased their expenses and required Sonic to hire two engineers to replace Marcaurelle on Cingular sites. The allegations combined "decimated" Sonic, said Andrew Skale, an attorney representing Sonic, and the company is no longer doing business.

"We are suing for damages," Skale said. "It's in the amount that the jury is going to determine Sonic is entitled. It's going to be in the millions."

The lawsuit also covers breach of contract and fraud issues. Cingular allegedly changed the number of sites awarded to Sonic throughout the nine-month project from 176 to 50, then to 80, up to 120 and then back down to 85. The price per site also changed, according to court documents. For example, Cingular dropped the price for the architectural and engineering service from $25,700 per site to $11,850, the claim alleges.

The main breach of contract issue, however, is that Cingular allegedly did not pay.

"They just refused to pay," said Marcaurelle.

"They paid them late and did not pay what they were promised," said Skale. "Cingular told them to gear up for about 200 sites, but when it came time to work on those sites they eventually took them all away."

Cingular's Web site does advocate the company's commitment to diversity.

"We celebrate and respect the rich culture of our employees, customers, business partners and communities in which we do business," it reads in its employment section.

Cingular also has a track record of being recognized for its dedication to diversity, including being recognized as one of the "Top 10 Gay-Friendly Employers In The Country" by The Advocate magazine, and one of the "Top 50 Companies for Diversity" by DiversityInc magazine.

Peter Masaitis of Weston Benshoof, the law firm representing Cingular in this case, would not answer questions without first consulting with his client and did not make any comments by press time.

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