Waffle House CEO responds directly to sexual harassment allegations

In his first personal response to a sexual harassment claim, Waffle House CEO Joe W. Rogers on Tuesday issued a statement acknowledging that he had sexual encounters with a personal employee over an eight-year period but maintaining that the acts were consensual.

“I am a victim of my own stupidity, but I am not going to be a victim of a crime — extortion,” Rogers said in a written statement distributed by his attorney.

The employee, whose name is being withheld because she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment, has accused Rogers of fondling her and routinely forcing her to perform sexual acts on him starting in 2003. The woman claimed she was forced to put up with the behavior because she could not afford to quit her job. She quit in June after her son went to college on a full scholarship, according to an incident report that the woman filed Sept. 28 at the Atlanta Police Department.

Rogers disputed those claims in his written statement while at the same time apologizing for the pain that the “infrequent consensual sexual encounters” had caused his wife and family. At a hearing in Cobb County Superior Court on Tuesday, Rogers and his wife, Fran, sat side-by-side dressed in dark business suits, flanked by three attorneys and a private investigator.

Civil litigation in Fulton and Cobb counties related to the claims has been filed under seal since September, but some of the filings were leaked to media outlets last week. Cobb County Senior Superior Court Judge G. Grant Brantley on Tuesday ordered documents related to the Cobb case to be unsealed since many of the details had already become public.

Rogers’ lawyer, Robert Ingram, said he got a letter from the former employee’s lawyer in July seeking to discuss the allegations and videotapes she had allegedly obtained depicting Rogers nude and engaged in sex acts. Ingram said the letter was tantamount to extortion. The woman’s attorney, David Cohen, characterized it as a customary demand letter.

Rogers’ lawyers sought to bar the woman from distributing the videos in an injunction filed Sept. 14 in Cobb.

Four days later, the woman filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in Fulton County. She later dropped the suit and filed a virtually identical one in Cobb County on Oct. 9 as a counter-claim to Rogers’ suit.

While the judge allowed written records from the Cobb case to be unsealed, Brantley said he was not happy someone distributed information about the case to media in violation of his order.

He impounded all the video and audio tapes and any transcripts of them — which are still sealed because a judge has ruled Rogers’ privacy interest in his body outweighs the public’s interest in seeing them — to prevent the footage from being leaked. Prior to the dismissal of the Fulton case, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Susan Forsling ruled that the former employee had illegally obtained the videos without Rogers’ knowledge or permission, a decision that the employees’ lawyers are currently appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Rogers’ attorneys claim that lawyers for the former employee were responsible for the leaks and have filed a motion to hold them in contempt. Brantley said he would schedule a hearing on the matter in the near future.

- Staff writers Christian Boone and Bill Rankin contributed to this story.

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