Former Bowlero exec says firm threatened to report him to FBI

Former Bowlero exec says company threatened to report him to FBI

A former government at Bowlero, the world’s largest proprietor and operator of bowling facilities, has requested a court docket’s permission to countersue his former employer for extortion and retaliation, after an government on a recorded name threatened to report him to the FBI if he did not admit to spilling firm secrets and techniques, in response to a transcript of the dialog filed in court docket.

The allegations by Bowlero’s former chief data officer, Thomas Tanase, filed Wednesday in a proposed countersuit in Virginia federal court docket, come after he and dozens of others filed discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Alternative Fee alleging they had been fired based on their age or out of retaliation, in response to firm securities filings and the proposed countersuit. Bowlero denies the claims.

The corporate, which went public in late 2021 by means of a particular function acquisition firm, or SPAC, was among the many choose profitable shares to emerge from the SPAC increase. It owns two of the largest manufacturers in bowling — AMF and Fortunate Strike — and operated greater than 300 bowling facilities throughout North America as of July. Between 2021 and 2023, Bowlero practically tripled its annual income, from $395 million to $1.06 billion, and it expects gross sales to develop between 10% and 15% in fiscal 2024, in response to firm filings.

Tanase began with the corporate’s data expertise division in 2001 earlier than climbing his manner as much as the C-suite, the place he labored carefully with the corporate’s CEO and ceaselessly had entry to delicate data contained within the CEO’s e-mail accounts, he mentioned in court docket filings. He says the corporate fired him in Might due to his age, and in August, he filed a discrimination declare with the EEOC, in response to a duplicate of the declare, which was included as an exhibit to the proposed countersuit.

Bowlero says that Tanase resigned after which had a change of coronary heart when he realized he would not get severance pay. In July, the corporate sued him, alleging he hacked into the e-mail account of CEO Thomas Shannon, copied firm paperwork onto a private USB drive and refused handy over his company-issued units. Tanase denies the claims.

Now, Tanase is in search of the court docket’s permission to countersue Bowlero and the corporate’s government vice chairman, Brett Parker. Federal guidelines require Tanase to get permission to countersue given the timing of the filings.

Within the proposed countersuit, Tanase alleges that Parker threatened to report him to the FBI if he did not admit to accessing Shannon’s emails and “come clean” about data he shared with Daniel Dowe, the legal professional representing the EEOC complainants, and with CNBC, which has beforehand written concerning the discrimination allegations against Bowlero. Throughout a March deposition, Tanase testified that he hadn’t spoken with CNBC, or another media outlet, concerning the firm.

‘You inform us every little thing you understand’

In a cellphone dialog between Tanase and Parker that Tanase recorded in June 2023, Bowlero’s vice chairman and former finance chief allegedly requested Tanase quite a few occasions to disclose what he’d mentioned and instructed him that if he did, all could be forgiven, in response to a transcript connected as an exhibit to the proposed counterclaim.

“If you come clean there is a path where you are our friend … You tell us everything that’s transpired … You tell us everything you know about Dowe everything that’s ever happened with respect to Dowe … With respect to the CNBC,” Parker mentioned in the course of the dialog, in response to the transcript.

“Then there can be a number and there can be a go away and we can move on. But we have to get the truth and full clarity,” Parker mentioned, in response to the transcript. 

“You can … Fall back into our good graces and be our friend in this matter and you will get paid to do that, but it has to start with the truth.”

In keeping with the transcript, Parker instructed Tanase if he defined every little thing and shared what data he had disclosed, the corporate may give him a “severance,” however “you really don’t want this to start with the police.” 

“I’m not going to be able to fight this internally, and you’re going to be trying to explain to the FBI that some device did this and I don’t want you to be in that position,” Parker mentioned, in response to the transcript. 

“You gotta help me help you,” he added.

In response, Tanase repeatedly instructed Parker he did not share any data with anybody and had been within the hospital when Shannon’s e-mail account was allegedly breached, in response to the transcript. As Bowlero’s former CIO, he beforehand had entry to the CEO’s account and mentioned it could have nonetheless been logged in on one other machine.  

“I haven’t done anything illegal … I haven’t done anything malicious either. I haven’t talked to anything or given out any information to anybody. I’ve told you this before,” mentioned Tanase, in response to the transcript.  

Bowlero mentioned the transcript merely exhibits the corporate making an attempt to increase an “olive branch” to Tanase if he had been to admit to the hacking allegations. 

“Far from wrongfully seeking to obtain a benefit from Tanase, Mr. Parker … acknowledges that he is ‘trying to help.’ These are all actions which, in the face of Tanase’s hacking of Bowlero computer systems, neither Bowlero nor Mr. Parker were required to do,” Bowlero mentioned in filings.  

“Indeed, what Tanase suggests is ‘extortion’ is obviously no such thing. Hence, even if Tanase had a private right of action for an extortion claim, the elements of such a claim are not met here,” the corporate mentioned.

Tanase additional alleges that Bowlero’s swimsuit towards him was introduced in retaliation for his refusal to signal a termination settlement that required him to waive his proper to pursue authorized motion towards the corporate. He additionally claims Bowlero sued him to discourage him from submitting a criticism with the EEOC or serving as a witness in its investigation into Bowlero.

Tanase’s attorneys are in search of round $8 million in damages from Bowlero on the extortion declare and greater than $27 million on the retaliation declare.

Late Thursday, Bowlero requested the choose overseeing the case to disclaim the request to countersue and to sanction Tanase by both issuing a default judgment within the firm’s favor or precluding Tanase from additional testimony. In court docket filings, the corporate mentioned Tanase admitted he misstated details in an earlier court docket affidavit, which he later corrected, and identified that he has employed at the very least three completely different regulation corporations for the reason that onset of the case.

“Tanase has so seriously impeached his own credibility that no testimony he can offer in his defense will rehabilitate him, and, in these circumstances, default judgment is appropriate in order to protect the integrity of the judicial process,” Bowlero mentioned in a memorandum in help of its request for sanctions. 

Bowlero’s legal professional Alex Spiro at regulation agency Quinn Emanuel, who has additionally represented A-listers equivalent to Elon Musk and Alec Baldwin, mentioned in an announcement to CNBC Tanase “will lose” his request to file a countersuit, and that it “is almost certainly going to be denied.” 

“Mr. Tanase is now seeking the court’s permission to file baseless counterclaims against Bowlero, five months after the deadline and five days before fact discovery will close. This cynical attempt to deflect attention from his bad acts is fatally flawed on both the merits and on the law — and Bowlero is confident it will prevail in its lawsuit against Mr. Tanase,” mentioned Spiro.

“His counterclaims are completely frivolous and we are seeking fees for responding to his motion,” he mentioned.

In response, Tanase’s legal professional Scott Pickus instructed CNBC if the court docket does not allow Tanase to maneuver ahead along with his counterclaim within the case, the swimsuit can and “likely will” be filed as a brand new motion. He mentioned he “very much” disagrees that the assertions made within the proposed counterclaim are frivolous. 

He mentioned he will not touch upon remarks Tanase made about misstating details.

“Suffice it to say that we disagree with Bowlero’s interpretation of the law, disagree with Bowlero’s recitation of the facts, and look forward to the trial of this matter,” Pickus mentioned.

EEOC investigation

Bowlero has been embroiled in an EEOC investigation since 2016 involving greater than 70 former staff who declare they had been unlawfully fired. They allege that Bowlero fired them for being too outdated because it labored to rework its a whole bunch of places from what the corporate has known as “dingy” bowling alleys to upmarket experiences with elevated food and drinks choices. 

Complaints and an affidavit filed by three former staff, together with Tanase, say Shannon hosted “beauty contests” with potential hires over temporary video calls to guage a candidate’s look as a part of the hiring course of. 

Tanase’s criticism accused Shannon of creating “racial and especially inappropriate ‘blonde women’ jokes” and “always treated wom[e]n as an inferior class to men.” Tanase additionally alleged that the corporate’s insurance policies banning Timberland boots and ball caps worn backward had been “designed to deter African American males from using” the corporate’s bowling facilities.

The EEOC has discovered cheap trigger within the majority of the complaints introduced towards Bowlero, together with Tanase’s, whereas the remainder stay below investigation, in response to Tanase’s criticism and firm studies. When the EEOC finds cheap trigger in a criticism, it means it believes discrimination occurred.

The EEOC beforehand tried to settle the complaints with Bowlero for $60 million in January 2023, however these efforts failed final April, CNBC beforehand reported. The company now has the power to file a federal lawsuit towards the corporate, nevertheless it’s unclear if it’ll. Earlier than the company can sue Bowlero in federal court docket, the EEOC’s commissioners have to vote on the matter. 

Spiro, Bowlero’s legal professional, instructed CNBC the employment discrimination claims “are without merit.”

“The so-called eeoc issues are age based discrimination claims, some of which date back to nearly a decade ago and no civil nor eeoc suit has ever even occurred with respect to those claims,” Spiro wrote in an e-mail. 

Pickus, Tanase’s legal professional, mentioned the EEOC’s cheap trigger findings that Bowlero engaged in discriminatory practices courting again to 2013 “would seem to belie Mr. Spiro’s assertions” that his consumer’s counterclaims are “frivolous.”

“Those findings by the EEOC may well be why Bowlero has sued Mr. Tanase. Bowlero’s actions remind me of a sports cliche: the best defense is a good offense,” Pickus added.

“We look forward to proving both claims,” he mentioned.

Dueling claims

Nonetheless at problem is whether or not Tanase resigned or was fired from his place — a dispute that is on the heart of Bowlero’s lawsuit, Tanase’s proposed countersuit and his EEOC declare, that are all separate however associated actions.

Within the leadup to his separation from Bowlero, Tanase mentioned, the corporate started micromanaging him and harassing him by carefully supervising his work so they may discover a purpose to fireplace him — a course of he described as “managing out,” in response to his EEOC criticism and proposed counterclaim. 

“Although Tanase suspected for several months that his employment might be in jeopardy, at no time did he seek to secure confidential information, remove property, or engage in any other self-serving conduct while having full access to Bowlero’s offices, office files, and computer servers,” Tanase’s attorneys wrote within the proposed counterclaim.

Within the EEOC’s dedication letter ruling that Tanase’s claims of age discrimination had trigger, Director Rosemarie Rhodes wrote that the conduct of Tanase’s then-supervisor, present Bowlero President Lev Ekster, “included unwarranted hostility, frequent criticism, unnecessary correction of his work, and undermining his authority and role vis-a-vis subordinates and vendors.” 

Bowlero alleged that following Tanase’s separation from the corporate, he vowed to get “revenge” on his former employer and “bury” its CEO, in response to its lawsuit towards Tanase. The corporate alleged in its swimsuit that Tanase instructed Bowlero Vice President of Human Assets Heather Webb that he had spoken with CNBC and a number of other attorneys, together with Dowe, concerning the firm.

“Mr. Tanase said he would ‘walk away’, which Ms. Webb understood to mean that he would no longer attempt to seek revenge or retribution on Bowlero or Mr. Shannon, if Bowlero were to pay him a $1.2 million ‘severance’ payment. Bowlero refused to make the payment,” Bowlero’s lawsuit mentioned. Tanase denies the claims.