Vanessa Bryant prevails in lawsuit by former Kobe Inc. employee

Vanessa Bryant prevails in lawsuit by former Kobe Inc. employee

An arbitrator has ruled in favor of Vanessa Bryant and multiple companies associated with her and late husband Kobe Bryant after a former employee sued for millions, claiming the Lakers legend had “verbally promised” her a stake in his investment in the BodyArmor sports drink company.

A lawyer representing Vanessa Bryant and three companies — Kobe Inc., Kobe Investments, LLC and 17/21 Investments, LLC — submitted a petition to confirm the arbitration award to Orange County Superior Court on Monday.

The documents, reviewed by The Times, show JAMS arbitrator Shirish Gupta awarded Bryant and the other parties more than $1.5 million for attorney’s fees and nominal damages and that former Kobe Inc. president Molly Carter agrees that the matter has been resolved.

According to the petition, “Carter sued the Bryant family for many millions of dollars, asserting that, mere months before his passing, Kobe Bryant ‘verbally promised’ her equity in his largest investment, the sports drink company, BodyArmor.”

Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, 2020, in Calabasas.

Carter worked at Kobe Inc. from April 2015 to September 2020. In 2017, she and the company signed an agreement that stated any potential differences involving the two parties would be arbitrated rather than litigated before courts. A copy of that agreement and a copy of Gupta’s written decision were included with the documents filed in court this week.

Bryant invested $6 million in BodyArmor in 2013 and received approximately 10% of the company and a seat on the board of directors, the documents state. In 2021, Coca-Cola purchased BodyArmor, which was valued at $8 billion at the time.

The court documents state that Carter asked for an equity interest in Bryant’s investment in BodyArmor three times between 2017 and 2020; those requests were denied by Bryant each time.

Carter testified that in July 2019 Bryant told her she would receive a 2% of his interest in BodyArmor from the sale of that company exceeding $2 billion. She filed a demand for arbitration on Aug. 6, 2021, that included three causes of action regarding the oral agreement she said she had with Bryant.

According to the documents filed this week, no evidence that anyone had been notified about that agreement was provided during arbitration, and Vanessa Bryant, BodyArmor chief executive Mike Repole and BodyArmor chief marketing officer Mike Fedele testified they were unaware of any such agreement at the time.

In addition, the documents state that Repole “testified that Carter did no work for BodyArmor and added no value to the company” and Fedele “commented that he was not aware of any substantive contributions Carter made to BodyArmor’s marketing campaign.”

Gupta ruled in favor of Vanessa Bryant in all three of those claims. Carter also lost on three separate causes of action filed against Kobe Inc., looking for “millions more,” the documents state, regarding a post-employment payout.

Carter also had initially filed three additional causes of action against Kobe Inc. and Vanessa Bryant for “gender discrimination” and “harassment,” according to the court documents. Those three claims were later dropped and Bryant was dismissed from the arbitration, although she remained involved as a member and administrator of Kobe Investments and the sole member of 17/21 Investments.

Gupta also ruled on a counterclaim filed by Kobe Inc. that alleged Carter breached contracts of confidentiality obligations, non-disparagement obligations and duty of loyalty. The arbitrator determined that Kobe Inc. “has proven breach but not actual damages” and awarded nominal damages of $1 for each of the three claims.

In his report, Gupta wrote that “throughout her employment and after, Carter has made negative statements about Bryant, Vanessa Bryant and the family” and “made racial statements about Bryant and Black people,” as well as Asians. The report listed many examples of such language attributed to Carter.

Carter’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on these allegations.