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Jackson defeats ex-employees’ lawsuit, wins countersuit

March 19, 1997 GMT

SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) _ A civil jury Tuesday rejected a wrongful termination lawsuit brought against Michael Jackson by five former Neverland Ranch employees and awarded the pop star $60,000 in a countersuit.

A Superior Court jury found that Jackson and five staff members weren’t liable in a lawsuit that claimed workers were forced out for reasons including their cooperation in a child molestation probe.

One defendant, Andrew Merritt, also was found not liable of sexually harassing plaintiff Melanie Bagnall.

Jackson’s successful countersuit claimed two of the former workers stole sketches, personal notes, hats, toys and candy from the ranch, selling some items to tabloid newspapers.

The lawsuits went to trial in September. The jury got the case on Thursday.

Jackson’s lawyer, Zia Modabber, said the evidence proved the plaintiffs were nothing more than ``people trying to capitalize on Michael’s fame.″

The plaintiffs claimed they were harassed and threatened by security guards and fired or forced to quit in 1994. Three claimed that they lost their jobs at the ranch for cooperating with a 1993 grand jury investigation into child molestation allegations against Jackson. Two said it was because they told authorities about illegal listening devices allegedly installed around the ranch.

Jackson was never charged with molestation. He reportedly paid more than $15 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of his 13-year-old accuser.

Jackson’s countersuit claimed that two of the ex-employees, Ralph Chacon and Adrian McManus, stole items from the ranch and later sold some of them.

The jury ordered Chacon to pay $25,000 in damages and McManus to pay $35,000. Punitive damages of $1 also were awarded because jurors found that the two acted with malice.