A story published yesterday in The Huffington Post detailed multiple lawsuits filed against executives at Monster Energy, including accusations of sexual discrimination and assault.
The story, by Emily Peck, featured interviews with five women who have sued the Corona del Mar, Calif.-based energy drink company, which is partially owned by The Coca-Cola Company.
In a statement to HuffPost, Monster disputed any allegations of sexual discrimination and labeled the accusers as “disgruntled former employees.”
The Coca-Cola Company, which owns an 18.1 percent stake in Monster, issued a statement this afternoon in which it declined to comment on the story because the energy drink brand is a separate public company.
“We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment, and we are committed to building a thriving workplace where all employees are respected and feel supported to be successful,” the company said. “At Coca-Cola, we work to protect employees from harassing conduct. Through our policies and resources, we aim to give associates the confidence to speak up, without fear of retaliation, if they believe this conduct has occurred. We recently reminded all employees of this commitment, as well as the multiple methods we have for reporting any concerns.”
John Kenneally, a vice president at Monster and head of East Coast beverage sales, is named in two of the lawsuits. Kenneally, whose long career in beverage includes sales roles at Sobe, BodyArmor, CytoSport and Fuze, was put on paid leave by Monster earlier this month pending the results of an internal investigation.
One accuser, former Monster business development manager Mary Frances Pulizzi, told HuffPost that Kenneally, her boss, often gossiped about female co-workers’ sex lives and once used a derogatory term to describe a female subordinate. She asked for and later received a new role at the company.
When a human resources rep asked Pulizzi to talk about her relationship with Kenneally as part of an internal investigation into discrimination claims made by the aforementioned female subordinate, she cooperated. Pulizzi claims that Kenneally later discovered the content of that conversation, which she was told would be confidential, and retaliated by spreading misinformation that damaged her reputation at the company and which Pulizzi said led to her first negative performance review. She subsequently left the company.
According to HuffPost, Monster said in a statement that it investigated Pulizzi’s claims and found them to be without merit.
Kenneally, 60, is also being sued for sexual discrimination in Louisiana federal court by Page Zeringue, a former region manager for Monster based in New Orleans. During her time at Monster, Zeringue began a sexual relationship with Kenneally. She subsequently received a promotion and then a second, to field marketing manager.
The HuffPost published several text messages allegedly sent by Kenneally to Zeringue which contained profane and abusive language. When Zeringue attempted to end the relationship, Kenneally threatened to have her fired, according to the lawsuit.
Zeringue later filed a complaint with human resources about a second Monster executive who she claimed was sexually harassing her. When Kenneally discovered she had done so, he allegedly warned her she would disciplined by her direct supervisor. The lawsuit claims that that disciplinary report, filed in September 2015, contained “fabricated, illegitimate, vague complaints and issues.” Zeringue was fired a few weeks later.
In another lawsuit, Brent Hamilton, Monster’s head of music marketing, is being sued by a former girlfriend, Sara Rabuse, for alleged assault.
The incident reportedly took place at the 2016 Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn. According to the suit, Hamilton was heavily inebriated and got into a fight with Rabuse in which he choked her and bit her finger.
TMZ.com originally reported the lawsuit against Hamilton in September. Rabuse filed a civil suit against Hamilton and Monster in California state court on charges of negligence, battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A hearing in her civil suit is scheduled for next month, where her lawyers are expected to argue that Monster should be held responsible for the attack.
Hamilton is set to face a jury trial on felony charges of aggravated assault this summer. He remains in his role at Monster.
Philip Deitrich, national director of wholesale and vending at Monster, is also the subject of a lawsuit. The story details claims from Jamie Leigh Hogan, a former regional manager for the brand based in Dallas, that Deitrich actively undermined her position and discriminated against her.
In August, Hogan filed suit in Texas federal court alleging sex discrimination and a hostile work environment. Deitrich remains with Monster, and it was unclear in a statement from the company to HuffPost if any internal investigation of Hogan’s claims regarding him ever took place.
Finally, Sarah Lozano, who worked in the human resources department at Monster from 2013 to 2015, has filed three separate cases against the company. Lozano left the company following the deterioration of her relationship with department head Christina Seafort. She claimed that Seafort accused her of having sex with a married colleague at a company event in Las Vegas, which Lozano forcefully denied, and subsequently retaliated against her.
Lozano was awarded $56,000 in lost wages by the California state labor board in 2016, which was later reduced to $20,000 after appeal by Monster. She is also suing for harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and a hostile work environment.
Kenneally, Deitrich, Hamilton and Seafort all either declined to comment or failed to respond to requests for comment by HuffPost for the story.
The article comes at an otherwise positive time for Monster Energy, which recently surpassed chief rival Red Bull in U.S. retail sales, according to data from market research firm IRI. The brand, which which uses the tagline “Unleash the Beast,” has successfully cultivated partnerships aimed at appealing to historically male-oriented consumer groups, such as video gamers, NASCAR enthusiasts and extreme sports fans. Promotional activities for the brand frequently include showcasing its scantily clad promotional models, nicknamed “Monster Girls.”
On Wall Street, the stock price for Monster (MNST) was relatively unaffected by the news, hovering around $68 a share.