INDIANOLA, Iowa — After losing in a sexual harassment lawsuit, a company in central Iowa is now avoiding paying the millions of dollars they owe.
“I felt hopeless because it didn’t matter what I would say to them,” said Tammie Ackelson.
In 2010, Ackelson sued her employer Manley Toy Direct after she said her supervisor regularly sexually harassed her and four other employees. “They were touching people,” Ackelson said. “They would rub our backs. It just got worse and worse and worse.”
She sold Banzai water toys, a trademark of Manley Toy, while working at a call center in an Indianola office.
Court documents show she and four women won their case in Iowa court against the Chinese-based toy company. However, before they could collect the estimated $2.4 million, they learned Manley Toy Direct and Toy Network suddenly no longer existed in the United States.
“Every time they get sued, they change their name,” Ackelson said. “It’s sickening what they do.”
KCCI has found state and federal lawsuits claiming all of the different company names are all connected to Manley Toy.
“Several companies in Hong Kong, in California and in Iowa have established a criminal enterprise to evade U.S. judgements and U.S. laws,” said Stephen Weisbrod, an attorney.
Ackelson’s attorney Bruce Johnson said the company changed their name right after the first judgement.
“They’re there doing business same general manager, same employees, same building at 700 New York Avenue, only now they’re MGS International, LLC,” Johnson said.
KCCI tried to talk with someone from MGS International. When we arrived, they had already moved, but the building’s owner gave us photos from when MGS International was using the building. Manley Toy claimed in federal court filings they had never done business at the address, but in photos a box shows their logo.
We then went to MGS International’s forwarding address in the East Village. While a few employees came out, they did not want to do an interview. The employees remembered Ackelson’s lawsuit against the company but said the company she sued no longer exist. They are now called Toy Box.
“They’re not being stopped,” Ackelson said. “So, they just shut down one business and open up another business and another name.”
A larger lawsuit is now targeting the people who allegedly owned all the different companies.
Manley Toy’s attorneys claimed in federal court filings to have no connection to these new businesses. A company called Toy Quest filed their own lawsuit in Hong Kong claim they are not an alter ego for Manley Toy or Toy Network and have never had anything to do with Ackelson and her coworkers.
“I’m tired of reliving it,” Ackelson said. “I’m tired of having to relive it.”
She’s uncertain if she will ever see any money. Weisbrod said one company executive told him after a deposition that the company will never pay.
“He said, ‘Look, you’re never going to catch us. You’re never going to be able to collect our assets. The guys in Hong Kong are always going to stay one step ahead of you,’” Weisbrod said.
KCCI has reached out to several companies and attorneys connected to the people listed in these multiple lawsuits. After two weeks, we have not heard back.