Phills assured the Stanford lawyer he was “speaking hypothetically.” Only he wasn’t. By the time of the seminar, the dean of the business school, Garth Saloner, had been involved with Phills’s estranged wife, Deborah Gruenfeld, a social psychologist and professor of organizational behavior there, for more than a year. And while Saloner had ostensibly removed himself from all decisions involving either Phills or Gruenfeld, Phills believed Saloner had remained enmeshed in his affairs, penalizing him professionally and injecting himself into his divorce and custody battles, all to drive him out of Stanford.
Some of this was not just conjecture. For three months in the summer and fall of 2012, as the incipient romance between Saloner and Gruenfeld developed, Phills, either sitting at his home computer or manning one of his other electronic devices—including, in one key instance, playing with the cell phone his wife had asked him to fix—had monitored and preserved the e-mails, text messages, and Facebook chats between the two. He’d followed their first walk together, and their first drinks, and their first date, and their first intimacies, real and cyber, fumbled and consummated. And all of this unfolded as he believed the Stanford Graduate School of Business (G.S.B.) was slowly squeezing him out, denying him crucial and lucrative teaching assignments and, by calling for a $250,000 loan to be repaid within less than a year, attempting to force him out of his house on the Stanford campus.