Sex assault cases raised questions about work environment at Utah tech firm Domo

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) DOMO office buildings on Utah Valley Drive in American Fork,Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has dropped sexual assault charges against two former employees of the Utah technology firm Domo, a case in which prosecutors asked whether there was a hostile work environment at the company.

The two men had been accused of raping a third Domo worker in 2016 at a Salt Lake City party attended by other employees. The woman also contended she was sexually harassed at work in the months leading to the party but did not report to the company because she had heard it ignored other complaints.

The charges were filed after she left Domo and later reported the alleged rape to police. A judge determined there was enough evidence to proceed to a trial, which was scheduled for this month. On Jan. 9, though, prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss the cases “in the interest of justice.” While the filing did not elaborate, that reason often is cited when prosecutors decide they cannot prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Domo spokeswoman Julie Kehoe did not answer questions from The Salt Lake Tribune but issued the following statement:

“Domo is committed to an inclusive environment where employees are safe, respected and empowered to do their best work. We take any claim to the contrary seriously.”

The prosecution had sought to bolster its cases by obtaining human resources records from Domo, including testimony about its work culture. But court entries show Domo didn’t provide all those documents or at least didn’t want them to become part of the public record.

Why the business software company objected isn’t in the public record. Domo successfully petitioned the judge to classify its filings as private, sealing them from public view.

The judge also agreed to block public access to portions of the audio recording made of proceedings that had been held in an open courtroom. The court recording obtained by The Tribune has a 90-minute gap; evidence from Domo had been discussed during that time.

There’s also a notation on the court docket referencing a “State Investigation of Domo, Inc.” with no elaboration.

Prosecutors “were presented with additional evidence that weakened the case and our ability to meet our burden,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill wrote in an email to The Tribune. He declined to answer other questions, citing prosecutor ethics and the judge’s rulings making so many issues private.

The Tribune is not naming the two suspects since the charges were dismissed.

Two people who worked at Domo confirmed that an investigator from Gill’s office contacted them asking questions about sexual harassment at the company. The Tribune agreed not to identify the two workers, who said they still have ties to Utah’s technology industry and fear retaliation.

Former employee Jay Biederman wrote on his Facebook page that sexual harassment was taking place at Domo in 2015 and 2016. The company called that suggestion false and sued him in June 2016 in state court in Salt Lake City for violating the terms of his separation agreement by disclosing defamatory and negative information about Domo. Both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit in 2017.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Domo, a computer software company based in American Fork, hosts a family-friendly Halloween party Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. Domo made a Salt Lake Tribune list of top places to work.

Competing views

Domo, based in American Fork, had 761 employees as of Jan. 31, of which 634 worked in the United States, according to the company’s annual report. The vast majority of those employees work in Utah.

The company has garnered a reputation as one of Utah’s best employers and received honors in The Tribune’s “Top Workplaces” survey in 2016. In that anonymous survey, employees praised the company as a “great” place with a challenging and rewarding climate surrounded by helpful and hardworking co-workers.

“I truly feel like Domo cares about me as a person and that makes me want to give it my all,” wrote one employee. “If I ever have a concern, I can address it and it will be properly recognized.”

Another said the tech firm’s bosses “take care of their employees and go above and beyond to make sure that we enjoy working here.”

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has regularly promoted Domo as an example of what the state’s tech sector, often called Silicon Slopes, can achieve.

Domo billboard

But at a hearing for the sex assault cases last January, the alleged victim testified that Domo had an internal reputation of not handling sexual harassment complaints well.

“[The] head of human resources,” the woman testified, “ … was not someone who was very friendly to other women, and her office was not a place known to be helpful or welcoming to anyone who had a sexual harassment complaint.”

“Had you heard that from other people?” Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Andrew Deesing asked her, according to the transcript.

“Yes. I've heard that from other employees who were at Domo, while they worked there. I’ve had other colleagues — I moved on to other, another company — and talked to former Domo employees who have told me stories about experiences that they have had that were similar as well.”

The Tribune generally does not name people who say they were victims of sexual assault. The woman declined to comment on the cases when contacted by The Tribune. Matthew Kober, an attorney who has represented her, said he had not been involved in the criminal case. He also declined to comment.

Court documents describe events at Domo months before the party where the woman was allegedly raped. One of the suspects was both an employee at Domo and the son of a top company executive.

The woman testified that within a month of her starting at Domo in March 2015, the son pressured her into telling people she was his girlfriend. They began spending time together outside work.

“My fear at the time,” the woman testified, “was that if I did not agree to pursue a relationship with him, that I could lose my job.”

He visited the room where she worked so often that her supervisor had conversations with her, with the suspect and the suspect’s supervisor about the issue, the woman testified.

“He would threaten me all the time if, if I didn't do what he wanted,” the woman said on the witness stand, “or if I misbehaved in front of certain individuals at the company, that I would lose my job. And I’d seen things like that happen.

“I had seen other people at the company, um, who weren't wanted there any longer, that would very quietly disappear.”

The second suspect made comments to the woman and the first suspect about wanting to sleep with her, the woman testified, and would walk past her in the office and make references to his genitalia being the size of a Red Bull can. She said she wasn’t interested in the second man.

The woman testified that the second suspect was friends with one of Domo’s top executives. The first suspect told her to be careful what she said and did around the second suspect because of those executive connections, she said.

‘You’re going to have sex’

The party happened in March 2016, according to court records, at a residence in downtown Salt Lake City belonging to a fourth Domo employee. The woman testified she — and others at the party — drank heavily at the first suspect’s urging.

The woman needed to go to the bathroom and said she was so drunk she crawled on her hands and knees to climb the stairs. When she came out of the bathroom, she said, the two suspects were there.

The first suspect “said to me, ‘You’re going to have sex with [the second suspect],’” the woman testified. “‘He wants to have sex with you.’ And I said no, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

She tried to go downstairs, but the first suspect took her by the arm and passed her to the second man, she testified. The first man stood watch, she testified, while the second man took her into a spare bedroom and raped her.

“I tried to pull here and there,” she said on the witness stand, “but I was very incapacitated.”

Utah’s criminal code says if a person knows that someone is “incapable of understanding or resisting,” having sex with the incapacitated person is rape. There’s no universal blood alcohol limit for consenting, so prosecutors typically focus on other indicators — such as vomiting, not being able to speak coherently and needing help to walk.

Later that night, the woman went to a bar with both suspects and other people from the party, she said. Her interactions with the first suspect continued for a few more months.

The woman did not tell any authorities about the party until almost two years later. By then, she had left Domo and married. Court records indicate the woman and her husband made a rape report to Salt Lake City police in early 2018. The aggravated sexual assault charges were filed against the two men in April 2018.

The men’s defense attorneys contended in court that none of the people at the party attendees corroborated the woman’s account. The defense questioned whether she was lying about aspects of what happened that night.

The suspect’s lawyers also pointed out the woman participated in jokes about the Red Bull can and noted that she had invited the second suspect to the party. (She said she invited him at someone else’s request.) The attorneys also portrayed her rape allegation as an effort to extract money from Domo.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) DOMO office buildings in American Fork on Jan. 9, 2020.

In seeking corroborating evidence, subpoenas show, prosecutors had wanted Domo to provide human resources records and any complaints about the suspects and their accuser.

Domo’s most-recent annual report was released April 15. It said the company was not “party to any material legal proceedings.”

Domo is a cloud computing and software company that gathers data on its clients, analyzes it and provides the results to those clients in a readable format. The company’s website says its customers have included 7-Eleven, Disney, Mastercard and the Utah Jazz.

Domo became publicly traded on Nasdaq in 2018. Domo was worth more than $1 billion in April, though its stock has declined by almost half since then.