LOS ANGELES ― Even as he awaits a criminal trial for allegedly strangling his girlfriend during a business trip in 2016, Brent Hamilton is still the head of music marketing at Monster Energy, the multibillion-dollar beverage company partly owned by Coca-Cola.
John Kenneally is a vice president at Monster despite three women accusing him of bullying, harassment and retaliation. They say he actively undermined their reputations and forced them out of the company. HuffPost obtained text messages he sent to one of these women, in which he described her as a “whore,” made a racially charged comment about “black dicks,” and used the term “bitch” to refer to both her and another female employee.
Another manager, Phillip Deitrich, regularly humiliated a female subordinate in front of co-workers and sabotaged her ability to work effectively, according to a sex discrimination lawsuit she filed. He still has a job. She left the company.
Hamilton, Kenneally and Deitrich are at the center of four lawsuits that women filed against Monster last year. Hamilton stands accused of assault, and the three lawsuits involving the other two men are about sexual discrimination, HuffPost has learned.
A fifth lawsuit, filed in 2016 by a woman who worked in the company’s human resource department, alleges she experienced harassment that was enabled by the company’s female former head of HR.
HuffPost interviewed all five women who have sued the company, which is best known for its highly caffeinated energy drink. A sixth woman, a former employee who says she was also mistreated, declined to go on the record because she wants to protect her privacy.
The women’s lawsuits and personal stories paint a detailed and disturbing picture of what systemic sex discrimination does to women’s lives and careers. Women at Monster allege that they were punished for speaking up, saying their professional reputations were tarnished and careers derailed. Egregious behavior by mainly male executives went without consequence.
At a time when there’s so much hand-wringing over the potential of the #MeToo movement to destroy men’s careers, these cases are a powerful reminder that women’s livelihoods are so often on the line when discrimination is allowed to fester.
Monster argued that these cases are without merit and had nothing to do with sex discrimination, and characterized the women who filed the suits as “disgruntled employees.”
“The only connection is that these individuals suing Monster for money have endeavored to band together to litigate their cases in the media,” the company said in a 600-word statement sent to HuffPost. “The cases are diverse, unrelated and do not remotely suggest a systemic environment of harassment or discrimination.”
However, the company also said its investigation into the cases is ongoing and that it has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and discrimination. Claims are taken “extremely seriously” and the company takes action if it finds wrongdoing, the statement said.
Coca-Cola, which owns an 18.1 percent stake in Monster, told HuffPost that it was unaware of these cases.
Coke’s ignorance on the subject is a “dereliction of duty,” said Liz Stapp, a lawyer and professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business who works with companies on their codes of conduct. She pointed out that two Coke executives sit on Monster’s board and that the company should be aware about any risks to its business.
Kenneally, who is named in two lawsuits, was put on paid leave after HuffPost reached out to Monster last week. The company claimed the decision was unrelated to this story, but declined to elaborate, citing privacy concerns.
It’s a guys club and you have to be able to hang. You have to put up with some things.
Jamie Leigh Hogan, a former regional manager for Monster
Monster is preparing to pull a curtain of secrecy around almost all of these lawsuits. Like most companies, it requires employees to settle disputes in arbitration, or private courtrooms outside the justice system where victims typically have no legal right to appeal.
“You’ll never see anything else about these cases because they’re in secret corporate court,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the lawyer who represented former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson in her sex harassment case against network chairman Roger Ailes. “They are not going to see justice. I say that firmly.”
‘This guy is like Prince Charming’
The love affair between Hamilton and Sara Rabuse, a 37-year-old makeup artist, ended violently in a Nashville, Tennessee, hotel room in 2016.
Both were in town from Los Angeles for the Country Music Awards. Hamilton, 46, was there for work; one of the nominees was sponsored by Monster. But neither of them made it to the event. Hamilton was arrested, and Rabuse was hospitalized after a hotel guest found her crumpled on the floor of their room.
They fought, Rabuse said. Hamilton was drunk and assaulted her, according to the lawsuit she has filed against him.
Rabuse had red marks around her neck from Hamilton trying to strangle her, according to the police report. Her thumb was bloody from where Hamilton bit her. Her nails were broken from fighting him off. Hamilton had pulled her hair so hard that clumps were yanked out, she said.
Rabuse recalled her relationship with Hamilton one sunny December afternoon in Los Angeles. Her dog, a tiny llahsa apso named Wicket, sat by her side in her makeup studio, a business she launched here nearly two years ago ― the culmination of her lifelong ambition to live and work near the Sunset Strip, at the center of LA’s rock scene.
She first met Hamilton just down the block at the Rainbow, a legendary haunt for musicians, in the summer of 2016. They attended Monster-sponsored rock concerts and music festivals ― Guns N’ Roses shows, OzzFest, Hair Nation. Hamilton impressed Rabuse on their second date by paying around $5,000 to buy her a piece of art she admired.
“I thought, ‘This guy is like Prince Charming,’” she said, perched on a black leather couch below the print Hamilton bought her, a playful piece depicting Queen Elizabeth blowing a bubble. “I fell in love.”
Hamilton hired Rabuse to do makeup for a Monster-sponsored event. There’s still a gift from Hamilton in her studio: a Monster-branded fridge stocked with the company’s energy drinks ― all with names like Rehab, Ultra and Zero ― and sporting the brand’s claw-shaped fluorescent yellow logo.
Rabuse was so smitten, she overlooked any red flags. She said Hamilton would berate her when he was drunk, calling her a “bitch” and a “whore,” or telling her she was “cheap” and “worth nothing.”
He got physical more than once, she said. He dragged her by her feet out of a hotel bed in San Diego after a concert. On an airplane ride home from a festival in Sacramento, he said, “Oh, I just want to choke you,” and put his hands around her neck, Rabuse said. She said he was ostensibly joking, “but it was creepy.”
But he promised to stop drinking. And he did, for two months. She stayed with him.
The “playful” choke is especially ominous given what came next: that awful night in Nashville.
Hamilton is scheduled to appear in court for a jury trial in Tennessee this summer over felony charges of aggravated assault.
Rabuse has filed a separate civil suit against Hamilton and Monster Beverage in California state court, claiming negligence, battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Hamilton still has his job. As the head of music marketing for Monster, a company that sponsors rock concerts, NASCAR races, mixed martial arts fights and various extreme sport events, Hamilton’s job includes a lot of late-night shows and partying with clients that is largely paid for by the corporation.
His Facebook page ― which he deleted after HuffPost contacted him for this story, then reinstated a few days later, and then deleted again a few days after that ― is dotted with photos of him partying: There he is in the VIP suite at the Grammy Awards last year with Skrillex, there he is posing with the band Anthrax.
Hamilton did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Monster characterized the incident as a private dispute.
“There is nothing in Mr. Hamilton’s employment history with Monster, or otherwise, that would have suggested he has a violent or abusive history or that he and his ex-girlfriend would have gotten into a private domestic dispute as alleged,” the company said in a statement sent to HuffPost.
Monster men ― and girls
Monster is a company run nearly exclusively by men who are marketing a product almost exclusively to men.
The top four executives at the company are men, including its co-founders, chief executive Rodney Sacks and president Hilton Schlosberg. There’s just one woman on Monster’s 10-person board of directors: Coca-Cola executive Kathy Waller, who was appointed in 2015.
The women typically associated with Monster are not executives. They are scantily clad models ― the “Monster Girls” ― employed to promote its drinks. These women are identified only by their first names on Monster’s website, in a section titled “Girls” that is sandwiched between content about “Gaming” and “Promotions.”
“Being a woman within Monster is rare,” said Jamie Leigh Hogan, a former regional manager for the company working out of Dallas, Texas. “It’s a guys club and you have to be able to hang. You have to put up with some things.”
Hogan, 37, worked in the beverage industry for eight years before joining Monster in 2011. Her previous job involved marketing drinks in bars and restaurants where she often encountered casual sexism, she said. But nothing she couldn’t handle.
The hostility she faced at Monster was on a whole new level, she said.
Hogan’s tenure at Monster started off well: She got good reviews from her manager and merit raises, according to the discrimination lawsuit she filed last year.
Everything changed, however, when she was transferred to Deitrich’s team following a company restructuring in 2015.
Deitrich, 51, had it out for Hogan from the start, she told HuffPost. He would second-guess Hogan’s every decision, according to the suit. When she presented data at meetings, he’d publicly challenge any reports or facts in front of her peers. He called her a “poor excuse of an employee” at a sales meeting in front of others, according to the suit.
Most discomfiting, he’d fly into her sales territory ― unannounced ― and take meetings without her, the suit alleges. That’s unusual.
“You want to look like a united front,” she said. “He’d come in and try to see if I was doing anything wrong.”
The men on Deitrich’s team were given stock options, but Hogan was not, according to the lawsuit. Hogan also alleges she was paid less than her male counterparts.
Hogan initially tried to tell herself she wasn’t being treated that way because of sex discrimination. “Maybe I’m overreacting,” Hogan said she recalled thinking.
Then Deitrich started holding impromptu team meetings without telling her, the lawsuit claims, and reprimanding her for missing them.
This went on for about three months, until Hogan reached a breaking point. She was having trouble sleeping and felt depressed and anxious. Her doctor recommended taking time off.
Hogan met with human resources and told them what was happening, and what her doctor recommended. The company approved a medical leave of absence.
“They were very sympathetic,” she said. But when she returned to work a month and a half later, Deitrich was still her boss. Nothing had changed.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said. The timing wasn’t ideal, because she had to walk away from her year-end bonus, but she found a new job. Now she’s doing brand development for a small company, still earning less than she did when she left Monster.
Hogan filed suit against the beverage company in federal court in Texas in August, claiming sex discrimination and a hostile work environment.
HuffPost asked Monster if it had investigated Hogan’s claims or taken any action to discipline Deitrich. The company did not offer an explanation, saying in a statement that Hogan’s lawsuit was about an alleged “conflict with her former supervisor regarding the work she was given and her compensation.”
Deitrich did not return an email or call from HuffPost.
‘It never dawned on me that they would protect him’
Mary Frances “Fran” Pulizzi never thought she’d be fighting Monster in court.
“I had a stellar reputation,” Pulizzi, 43, told HuffPost. “I loved my job.”
Pulizzi started with the company in 2011 as an administrative assistant and had worked her way up to business development manager by the following year.
Then, in the fall of 2013, she got a new boss: Kenneally, 60, who heads up beverage sales on the East Coast.
No one would take my calls or talk to me. It was scary, the impact he had.
Mary Frances “Fran” Pulizzi, about a Monster vice president
Kenneally was basically the boss from hell, Pulizzi said. He often gossiped about female co-workers and speculated about their sex lives, she said. During one particular conversation he called a female subordinate a “whore,” Pulizzi said. He had a temper, and was known to pound his fists on his desk in anger.
But Pulizzi put up with it, according to the complaint. She kept her head down, even though he made her life miserable. Eventually she found a way out. She lobbied for, and landed, a new role in the company.
Everything changed after HR called her in the summer of 2014. The department was investigating discrimination claims against Kenneally by the woman Pulizzi had heard him call a “whore.” The HR rep asked Pulizzi about her own working relationship with Kenneally, and told her whatever she said would be in strict confidence. “I trusted her,” Pulizzi told HuffPost. So she told them everything.
And according to the lawsuit Pulizzi filed in April 2017, Monster kept nothing confidential. Kenneally retaliated against her, Pulizzi alleges, making it nearly impossible for her do her job. He told his colleagues at the company that Pulizzi had “tattled” on him and badmouthed her, she said.
“He told people I worked as a barista at Starbucks instead of doing my job full-time,” Pulizzi said, adding that Kenneally spread a rumor that she was having money problems and also worked as a babysitter. This rumor-mongering led to Pulizzi receiving her first poor performance review, she said.
“No one would take my calls or talk to me,” Pulizzi said. “It was scary, the impact he had.”
Monster’s human resource department, which essentially created Pulizzi’s nightmare situation, proved to be no help. They told her to try to work it out with Kenneally. When Pulizzi said she wanted to file a formal complaint against him, she was told to sleep on it, she said.
Ultimately, Pulizzi realized that the company simply was not on her side. After taking a medical leave of absence for anxiety, she tried to take yet another new role at Monster, separate from Kenneally, but was told that wasn’t possible.
“I thought it was a good company for a long time,” Pulizzi said, adding that she initially thought the problem was just Kenneally. Now she thinks it goes deeper.
“It never dawned on me that they would protect him,” she said.
Monster appears to have taken no action against Kenneally until just recently. After HuffPost inquired about him in early January, the company put him on paid leave pending the results of an internal investigation.
The company declined to provide more detail, but said in a statement that Pulizzi’s complaints of retaliation are coming only after she left the company and stem from receiving a poor performance evaluation. Monster said it had investigated her complaints and found them to be without merit.
‘It made me feel worthless’
The women who spoke with HuffPost described HR as a landmine, likely to take a bad situation and blow it up. Accusers were told their conversations would be kept confidential ― only to find out that their supervisors were told everything.
Sarah Lozano would know. She worked in the HR department at Monster from 2013 to 2015. As a go-between for executives and HR, she helped manage employee relations, typically handling a lot of paperwork, as well as recruitment and minor issues like employee tardiness and occasionally larger personnel problems, including terminations.
Employee complaints about executives were handled with kid gloves, Lozano said. HR would take the executive aside for a casual meeting to try to figure out what the problem was with the accuser.
“If someone was higher-up, you’d have a conversation over dinner and drinks,” Lozano said.
Everyone else got pretty standard treatment, Lozano said. The disciplinary process was routine if there was a problem with a lower-level worker ― a “totally different mentality,” she said.
Sitting at a table in a Starbucks in Corona, California, near Monster’s headquarters, Lozano, an outgoing, friendly 31-year-old, described how hopeful she was when she got the gig at Monster. It was her first salaried job, and she had big ambitions to reach the executive level ― if not at Monster, then at another company.
My credibility and my morals and ethics and my history of working with her was completely washed away over this allegation.
Sarah Lozano, a former Monster employee
By the time she left a little more than a year and a half later, she was being treated for anxiety and depression, as well as a vitamin D deficiency she said she acquired from working too many hours indoors.
The work was grueling and she had little time for a social life, she said. But it was manageable ― until an incident in 2014.
Christina Seafort, who was the head of HR at the time, accused Lozano of having sex with a married colleague in a casino bathroom at a company-related event in Las Vegas.
Seafort was not concerned with the well-being of Lozano, whose reputation was on the line, Lozano said. She did not believe Lozano’s forceful denial of the incident, according to the civil suit Lozano later filed. Nor did she seem concerned with the culture of a company where gossip was instantly taken as fact.
Instead, she blasted Lozano for damaging the department’s reputation and potentially ruining another man’s marriage, Lozano recounted in a deposition in January 2016, in a separate case she filed against the company.
“It made me feel worthless,” Lozano said in the deposition. “My credibility and my morals and ethics and my history of working with her was completely washed away over this allegation.”
Lozano then felt like she had to work twice as hard to prove to Seafort she was a worthy employee and regain her trust.
But things were never the same. By the summer of 2015, Lozano was suffering from anxiety and depression, and she offered up her resignation. Seafort wound up telling Lozano to leave before her scheduled last day, and said she was fed up with her employee leaving work to attend a weekly evening therapy session, Lozano said.
Seafort did not respond to HuffPost’s attempts to contact her. Amazon, her current employer, declined to comment.
It would be easy enough to scapegoat Monster’s human resources department for enabling the corporate culture to fester. But that would be a mistake, said the University of Colorado’s Stapp. HR just does what it’s told, she said. If people at the top don’t hold people accountable, there’s little the department can do.
Stapp said a board of directors need to be involved to truly change the way a company handles harassment. Right now most boards are ignoring the issue entirely, she said. If harassment does become a concern, boards are typically more focused on how to protect an executive’s reputation.
“They see it as an obligation to protect the image of the CEO and executives,” she said.
Lozano filed three separate cases against Monster after she left: one with the state labor board seeking lost wages, another seeking workers’ compensation for medical expenses, and a suit in state court for harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and a hostile work environment.
She had scored a small victory by the following year, with the California labor board awarding her $56,000 in lost wages. Monster appealed and settled with Lozano for $20,000 in 2017.
Since leaving Monster, Lozano has had a hard time finding steady employment. She never wants a corporate job again, she said, despite her early ambition to reach the executive suite.
In a statement to HuffPost, Monster said Lozano’s suit was over a disagreement with Seafort, and that gender discrimination was not an issue.
“Ms. Lozano resigned from Monster for another job opportunity and was not terminated. She subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging a dispute with her supervisor, the female head of Human Resources,” the company said.
‘I blamed myself’
The sense of entitlement among executives at Monster was apparently so entrenched that Kenneally, the vice president described as gossiping about his female colleagues’ sex lives, felt emboldened to both pursue a sexual relationship with a Monster employee and give her a promotion to work for him.
Page Zeringue, a 44-year-old single mother who worked for Monster as a region manager in New Orleans, was initially flattered and charmed by Kenneally’s advances, she said. Zeringue knew a romantic relationship with her boss was a big risk, but she took the chance. The initial promotion came with a 16 percent raise; Kenneally soon gave Zeringue another promotion, to senior field marketing manager, which came with a 14 percent raise and stock.
It was 2014, and Zeringue said she never could have predicted how abusive he’d become. Kenneally was a jealous lover who figured out Zeringue’s passwords so he could read her texts and emails. He privately berated her and at work displayed an explosive temper. His texts, obtained by HuffPost, were profanity-laced and filled with rage and derision.
“You are so incredibly fucking selfish!!!!!” Kenneally texted her in February 2015. “I wish I never had to speak or see you ever again unfortunately I do…..”
When she didn’t respond immediately, he wrote two minutes later, “You are a whore.” He used that same kind of language when talking to her in person, calling her a “cheat,” a “liar” and a “bitch,” according to the lawsuit. In one text exchange reviewed by HuffPost, he also referred to Hogan, who is now suing Monster for sex discrimination, as a “bitch.”
Zeringue tried to call it off, but he talked her out of it and threatened to get her fired, according to the sex discrimination lawsuit she filed last year in federal court in Louisiana. She was afraid of doing anything that could put her job at risk.
“I could see where it was going. I blamed myself. There was so much shame,” she said, adding that she still feels ashamed. “Why did I do this?”
Complicating the situation further, Zeringue says a married Monster executive harassed her while she was dating Kenneally. He asked her if her “boobs were real” and stared at her chest while they were talking between meetings at a business conference. Another time, that same executive hugged her tightly and pressed his chest close to hers, according to Zeringue’s lawsuit.
Finally, in August 2015, itching to do something to improve her situation and too afraid to complain about Kenneally, Zeringue went to human resources about the other executive, according to her lawsuit.
Monster HR ordered the executive to take sexual harassment training.
Kenneally caught wind of the situation and told Zeringue she should have kept her mouth shut. He warned her she would get a disciplinary write-up from her direct supervisor ― a new manager, a woman, who’d been placed between her and Kenneally in a restructuring.
The write-up came in September 2015, and included a batch of fabricated, illegitimate, vague complaints and issues, according to the lawsuit. It was the first time in her seven years at Monster that Zeringue had been disciplined.
“I tried every way to get you to look at things differently so you would not get written up or fired and you said fuck you,” Kenneally texted Zeringue during this time. “So now I am officially done I don’t give a shit what happens to you.” (See the full exchange below.)
The next day, he wrote again, “I know way more about you and your promiscuous ways than you will ever know…I bet you fucked 50 guys since I have been with you.. I don’t give a shit anymore if you are fucking two black dicks.”
Zeringue was fired a few weeks later. She was told her performance hadn’t improved.
More than two years later, she is still unemployed and looking for work.
Kenneally, who was put on paid leave after HuffPost contacted Monster for this story, did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
“Ms. Zeringue and John Kenneally were involved in a consensual romantic relationship,” Monster said in a statement to HuffPost. “Her separation from the company was unrelated to Mr. Kenneally.”
‘They think they can get away with this’
Monster doesn’t appear to be terribly worried about these cases, and it seems unlikely that the company’s investors have known they existed.
It’s likely that the company doesn’t view these women and their lawsuits as threats to the business. Except for the lawsuit Rabuse filed against her ex-boyfriend, all the cases will be tried out of the public eye in arbitration ― where the women stand little chance of winning, according to lawyers who work on these types of cases.
Even knowing the odds, the five women are moving ahead. Several said they were emboldened by the brave people coming forward to tell stories of harassment and discrimination as part of the ongoing #MeToo movement.
The women HuffPost spoke to want justice. Their goal, they said, is to restore their reputations and to make sure no other women at Monster have to go through the same trauma.
Rabuse said she has lost business since that night in Tennessee. The contacts Hamilton had funneled her way, and anyone associated with him, stopped coming to Outlaw Cosmetics, her West Hollywood makeup studio.
“It’s been an awful year,” she said. She often teared up as she recounted their months-long relationship.
A hearing is scheduled in her civil suit for February. There, her lawyers will argue that Monster should be held responsible for Hamilton’s assault. The company knew about Hamilton’s violent tendencies and that he had a history of both alcohol and cocaine abuse, the lawsuit says, yet they still encouraged him to party in order to do his job ― thus endangering Rabuse.
“They think they can get away with this,” Rabuse said, referring to Monster, adding she doesn’t want any other woman to experience what she did. “I want justice.”
Do you have a story about harassment or discrimination that you’d like to share? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org