By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"At its peak, people probably had a lot of money in their 401(k)s, but that was based on a business model that was fraudulent," Miller reasons. "How much money would people be allowed to claim they lost?"
There is some worry among coalition members that their case will be weakened somehow as former employees move on, either to focus on new jobs or to avoid being consumed by anger and disappointment. After a lot of early interest, the employee class represented by the coalition has leveled off at about 600 people.
Still, interest could pick up if Houston's energy economy doesn't. No one knows how many of the 4,500 employees laid off are back to work somewhere else; about half the coalition members interviewed have found new jobs. A pattern of discrimination has emerged in the refusal of some firms to even interview former Enron employees, says Michael J. Miller, who put in 20 years working for the company and its predecessor.
"If you were an employer and you had a choice of equally qualified candidates, and one was from Enron and one was from Duke, which would you choose?" Miller asks.
That's a stunning turn of fate for Enron employees, who were once considered the best in their field, not just in Houston, but in energy centers around the world. Even now, many employees think it's only a matter of time before people are downloading entire libraries of movies onto their hard drives and the demand for broadband will catch up to the supply. On the other hand, the company credited with opening up the country's energy markets to private companies has done the most, through its abuse of the privilege, to damage the cause. Some states are rethinking their new laws, while others have postponed enacting theirs until the federal government concludes an investigation into alleged price manipulation in California.
In the end, the lack of an honorable legacy may prove quite motivating for former employees.
"We're all very interested in seeing that justice is done," says Michael L. Miller. "And justice means not only that what is due the people who worked at Enron is returned to them, but also that there is some accountability here. Who is to blame? And that those people pay the consequences."