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Woman Sues Sara Lee, Chairman

Sep 3, 2004 | Winston Salem Journal

A Dallas woman has sued Sara Lee Corp. for employment discrimination and accused the company's top official of withdrawing a job offer after she refused to continue a sexual relationship with him.

In addition to suing Sara Lee, Brenda Jarvis, 35, is suing C. Steven McMillan, the company's chairman and chief executive, for defamation.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified lost earnings and compensatory damages from Sara Lee, based in Chicago, and compensatory and punitive damages from McMillan. Sara Lee and McMillan denied any wrongdoing.

The marketing position reported to have been offered to Jarvis was with Sara Lee's Hanes division, which is part of the company's branded-apparel unit, in Winston-Salem.

The dispute received full-page coverage in the Sept. 6 issue of Fortune magazine, which said that McMillan, 58, is divorced.

The events that led to the lawsuit being filed July 27 in federal court in Illinois began in early July 2003 in Florida, where McMillan has a home, according to court papers.

Both sides agree that McMillan and Jarvis met at the house. From there, their stories differ dramatically, according to the complaint and Sara Lee's and McMillan's response.

Jarvis alleges that while staying at the house, McMillan said he thought that Sara Lee might have a job for her. Jarvis said that McMillan asked her to fly to Chicago for a job interview the last weekend of July last year, where he is reported to have offered her a job at a salary of $140,000.

She accepted. She and McMillan had sexual intercourse that weekend, she said.

Jarvis and McMillan talked about her future job duties in the Hanes division in late July and early August, her lawsuit says. In early August, McMillan asked Jarvis to accompany him to Italy on a business trip, but she refused to continue the sexual relationship and refused to go with him, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Jarvis asked for written confirmation of the job offer, but McMillan withdrew it.

Sara Lee and McMillan confirm that there was a sexual relationship between McMillan and Jarvis but deny that he ever talked about a job with her, or that he extended or withdrew a job offer. He also denied asking Jarvis to go to Italy with him.

Jarvis' lawsuit alleges that after McMillan withdrew the job offer, he informed several people that Jarvis "was 'following him,' that she came to Chicago uninvited, and was trailing after him demanding sex."

McMillan denied the allegation.

"The allegations regarding potential employment at Sara Lee are completely fabricated," Sara Lee said in a statement yesterday. "Mr. McMillan's contact with the plaintiff was very brief and strictly social. This lawsuit is completely without merit."

Jarvis' attorney strongly disagrees.

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