Venture capitalist Michael Goguen and exotic dancer Amber Baptiste met at a Dallas strip club in the early 2000s and started spending time together.
That’s about all they agree on.
Baptiste says Goguen sexually abused her for more than a decade and then reneged on an agreement to pay her $40 million to halt a personal injury lawsuit, according to her March 8 breach-of-contract lawsuit. Six days later, Goguen countersued saying the relationship was consensual and alleging that Baptiste tried to extort him because he declined to make a greater commitment to her.
The legal battle – punctuated with revealing photos, salacious text messages and explicit descriptions of sexual acts – has rocked the venture-capital industry, already stung by criticism that it treats women poorly. Sequoia Capital, where Goguen worked for almost 20 years, parted ways with him once Baptiste’s suit became public. While the firm tweeted that the allegations against Goguen were “unproven and unrelated” to the firm, it said, “Nevertheless, we came to the decision that Mike’s departure was the appropriate course of action.”
In her complaint, Baptiste portrays herself as a victim, brought to America by human traffickers and sold as a dancer to a strip club. Goguen, a graduate of Cornell and Stanford universities, was a partner at Sequoia, a venerated Silicon Valley VC that backed pioneering companies such as Apple, Yahoo! and Google.
Goguen says they started seeing each other no more than a few times a year, mostly at Baptiste’s request. Baptiste says after meeting in the strip club Goguen repeatedly contacted her, promising that if she went out with him he’d help her break free of the human traffickers. Goguen, who married and divorced multiple times during the relationship, says he felt sorry for Baptiste and wanted to help her leave the life of an exotic dancer.
Over the following decade, they formed a relationship that Goguen said Baptiste welcomed and pursued. Over the years, he said, she wrote seductive e-mails and sent him sexually provocative photos of herself. She called him “the most amazing man I have ever met,” according to a text message cited in Goguen’s suit. “Your manner is so sweet and delicate.”
Baptiste says Goguen forced himself on her from the beginning, performed lewd acts and turned her into a sex slave. Her lawsuit includes graphic details of alleged coercion, including an incident in 2012, when she says she was sodomized and left bleeding in a London hotel. Goguen confirms the London rendezvous but claims the acts were consensual and cites as evidence e-mails from Baptiste, including one that says: “I promise promise it is not your fault . . . I was a willing participant in this accident.”
In 2011, about a decade into the relationship, Baptiste says she discovered she was infected with several “high-risk strains” of HPV, the human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer. She says Goguen gave her the virus; Goguen says he has never been diagnosed with HPV.
Over the years, Goguen says he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Baptiste to cover her general living expenses. In her suit, Baptiste says Goguen told her to set up two entities – Je Ne Se Que Enterprises LLC and a charitable organization called Every Girl Counts – so he could keep the payments secret and write off the money as donations.
As time passed, Goguen says, Baptiste became increasingly frustrated that he spent so little time with her and remained married. As she entered her 30s, according to the complaint, Baptiste said she wanted to have children with him. But Goguen didn’t leave his wife then and had more children. “Eventually, Ms. Baptiste concluded that if she could not have Mr. Goguen’s heart, at least she could have his money,” according to the lawsuit.
In 2014, Baptiste sent Goguen a draft complaint through a lawyer alleging years of physical and emotional abuse. The two eventually signed a settlement agreement in May of that year. Goguen agreed to pay her $40 million in four equal payments, saying in his complaint that he did so to prevent Baptiste’s “ruinous lies from being publicly exposed.”
In exchange, Baptiste agreed not to proceed with the personal injury lawsuit and to keep the settlement private. Both sides also agreed to cease all communication.
But the texts and e-mails continued.
Baptiste says Goguen threatened to hire someone to follow her wherever she went to make sure she never spoke of his abuse and demanded she relocate to another state or country. For his part, Goguen claims Baptiste sent him more than 2,000 messages, in which she threatened to expose their relationship and his alleged acts to his children. He says she also vowed to send him to prison if he didn’t accelerate the payment schedule. Goguen stopped paying.
In her complaint, Baptiste is asking the court to enforce the $40 million settlement plus legal costs and damages. Goguen is seeking return of the $10 million payment, damages and a restraining order against Baptiste.
The case is Baptiste v. Goguen, CIV537691, Superior Court of California, San Mateo County (San Mateo).