A Henderson man once accused by a former employer of theft recently won a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against the same Colorado staffing company.
On April 12, a Weld County jury awarded 38-year-old Clint Munoz $2.7 million in damages in his lawsuit against Employment Solutions. Munoz filed the lawsuit against the temp agency in February 2018 for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, negligence, libel and civil theft. The jury returned a verdict in Munoz’s favor on all of the claims.
“I was just looking for justice; that was my main goal,” Munoz said on Monday. “I feel like justice was served. I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through something like this.”
The lawsuit stemmed from March 11, 2017, when Munoz was arrested by Frederick police and subsequently charged by the Weld District Attorney’s Office with one count of felony theft. The arrest was initiated by Susan Bettis, vice-president of accounting at Employment Solutions, who claimed Munoz embezzled from the company more than $6,000 over a period of about four months.
Leading up to the arrest, Munoz, who lives in Henderson, a few miles southwest of Brighton, had been employed with Employment Solutions as an on-site supervisor for more than four years. He worked at Otterbox, one of Employment Solutions’ customers, in its Frederick warehouse where he supervised temporary workers tasked with packaging the company’s protective cellphone cases for retail.
Munoz often supervised the late shift. On March 7, 2017, he left work early because one of his three children fell ill. While at home caring for his sick child, Munoz decided to quit and informed Employment Solutions of his resignation through email.
Two days later on March 9, 2017, Bettis traveled to the Frederick Police Department and accused Munoz of theft. She claimed Munoz used his status as a supervisor to fraudulently collect additional wages by creating a ghost employee he could clock in and out of the warehouse.
When asked by an officer how Munoz was able to collect the ghost employee’s wages, Bettis explained Employment Solutions pays some of its employees through global cash cards. Once loaded with an employee’s pay, the cards operate the same as a standard debit card. Bettis claimed Munoz again used his status as a supervisor to obtain an extra global cash card to collect the wages of a former employee who hadn’t worked at Otterbox for six months.
But further investigation into Bettis’ claims would reveal she fabricated the story. In January 2018, the Weld District Attorney’s Office dropped the theft charge against Munoz, but the damage had already been done.
During the civil trial, which began Monday, April 8, Munoz testified about how he was forced to spend the night in the Weld County Jail following his arrest. A job offer he had already accepted was withdrawn because of the accusation against him. Two more job offers also were later withdrawn when Munoz disclosed he had a felony charge hanging over his head.
Without gainful employment, Munoz lost his house. Eventually his wife left him, taking their three children with her. He also drained his children’s college fund totaling about $20,000 to pay for his criminal defense attorney.
Munoz was represented in his lawsuit by Denver attorneys David Suro, who initiated the court action, and Ken Eichner, who later joined Munoz’s legal team. Both attorneys are former prosecutors turned criminal defense attorneys.
“When I read the facts of the case, I just couldn’t believe it,” Eichner said in an interview with The Tribune. “This is really just another version of an old story: a giant corporation smashing down on a little guy.”
During his closing argument, Suro asked the jury to send a clear message to Employment Solutions by awarding Munoz $3 million for his economic and non-economic damages. He told the jury he thought Munoz deserved an extra $6 million in punitive damages. In the end, the jury awarded nearly a third of that total.
Eichner thinks Munoz’s $2.7 million verdict is the largest in Colorado history for a defamation case involving a private resident.
“Employment Solutions argued they waited two days before going to the police,” Eichner said. “Our claim is they never did an investigation, and we think they (the jury) found Employment Solutions’ actions offensive.”
Munoz now works for PrimeFlight Aviation Services, a company that provides a variety of services to air carriers and airports. He said this week he’s relieved this chapter of his life is over.
“I feel liberated, I feel more at peace that I don’t have to think about that part of my life anymore,” Munoz said. “I feel like a message was clearly sent about how they (Employment Solutions) should treat their employees, and I hope they think twice before dragging someone else through this kind of a fiasco.”
A call to Employment Solutions President Rick Wagner for comment was not immediately returned. Susan Bettis remains employed by the company, according to Employment Solutions’ web site and her LinkedIn profile.
Otterbox didn’t learn about the alleged theft until after Suro filed the lawsuit, according to court records.