Our employment sexual harassment attorneys often monitor various case verdicts so that we know what cases are worth. While we know how much our cases settle for, they are mostly covered by confidentiality provisions – which prevent us from using them in these blogs.
Here is another good example of how employers can take a bad situation and make it worse by retaliating and failing to stop ongoing sexual harassment, and then screwing it even further by letting it get to the jury.
Carmen Jean-Baptiste, 43, was hired in May of 2006 by the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation (“DPR”). Jean-Baptiste was given the impression that she had been hired for a year-round lifeguard, but DPR claimed at trial it was only a seasonal position set to expire at the end of the summer. According to Jean-Baptiste, Rodney Weaver, the Assistant Pool Manager, began to engage in sexually harassing and demeaning behaviors, which got progressively worse over the summer. According to Jean-Baptiste, Weaver constantly asked questions about her romantic life, asked her out on dates, made lewd comments about her body parts, pulled her hair while simultaneously making sexually suggestive statements, touched her inappropriately, and directed her to get out of the pool while standing in front of her with an erection and staring at her crotch. According to Jean-Baptiste’s testimony, Weaver asked her to go with him to Atlantic City, and crudely and sexually propositioned her, specifically stating that he “wanted to get some of [her] pussy for [his] birthday.”Jean-Baptiste testified that she asked Weaver to stop and told him she would file a complaint if he did not.
After several complaints to various levels at the DPR, the male supervisors conducted an investigation. But, when a female witness left the room, she heard the remaining men joking and laughing about who was going to “successfully seduce” Jean-Baptiste first. Additionally, Weaver angrily confronted Jean-Baptiste after the meeting and told her that the accusations could have cost him his job and threatened that any further complaints would cost Jean-Baptiste her job.
In mid-June, Solomon Robinson, Weaver’s close friend, was promoted to Area Supervisor. Jean-Baptiste next brought her complaints to Robinson. Robinson called both Jean-Baptiste and Weaver into his office and made her state her allegations in front of Weaver. Weaver did not directly dispute her story.
According to various testimony, summer lifeguards were generally kept on after the summer based on their supervisors recommendations. However, DPR informed Jean-Baptiste that she would not retain her past September 29, 2006 or consider her for a permanent lifeguarding position. Jean-Baptiste, who still believed she was a year-round employee, contacted DPR Director Roslyn Johnson and Aquatics Director Harold Houston about her termination and allegations of harassment.
On October 18, 2006, Jean-Baptiste submitted a formal job application to DPR after meeting with Houston and Rodgers to discuss her desire to continue her employment. Although Jean-Baptiste had previously passed a swim test to become a summer lifeguard, she was forced to take another test. Jean-Baptiste testified that her test took place in only twelve feet of water while other employees were tested in four feet; that she was required to demonstrate back boarding skills not normally required by DPR or the American Red Cross for lifeguard certification; and that employees assigned to assist her with back boarding were improperly trained. Despite holding water safety instructor certification, American Red Cross lifeguard certification, pool operators’ certification, and water aerobics certification, DPR failed Jean- Baptiste on the swim test. Despite the obvious existence of a record of Jean-Baptiste’s skills assessment, DPR did not produce any such record. By October 21, 2006, Jean-Baptiste was informed that her application for continued employment had been rejected.
Jean-Baptiste testified that the harassment caused her stress, anxiety, depression. However, Jean-Baptiste she did not offer the jury testimony from a medical or psychological professional.
What did the jury do? Not only did they return a verdict for $3.5 million, they attached an addendum chastising DPR and suggesting that new protocols be put in place to prevent such conduct in the future. (see the jury verdict form).
Unfortunately, in an unusually long 29-page opinion, the judge concluded by holding: “Jean-Baptiste did not present evidence that she is owed compensatory damages in the realm of $3.5 million. The Court finds that the highest amount the jury tolerably could have awarded, based on the damages she established, is $350,000. Jean-Baptiste will have twenty one days from the date of this Opinion to inform the Court and the defendant, in writing, of her decision whether to accept this reduced award or to proceed to a new trial on damages.”
The judge can only remit for a new trial on damages once. If the next jury awards $8 million. The judge cannot do anything to lower it. What would you do?
If you even think that your employment rights have been violated or that you might need an employment lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 273-3742. The Spitz Law Firm is dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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