SHADES OF GRAY Link
PRODUCTS & PUBLICATIONS Link
TRAINING & SERVICES Link
CERTIFIED CONSULTANTS Link
HARASSMENT UPDATES Link
THE EMPLOYERS ASSOCIATION Link
RESOURCES Link
HOME PAGE Link
-
Pacific Resources
1-800-528-2398
3020 W. Arrowood Road
Charlotte, NC 28273 USA
info@employersassoc.com
www.employersassoc.com
- Stop and Prevent Sexual Harassment

Products and Services to Stop and Prevent Sexual Harassment
from The Employers Association

-

The Webb Report Archives 2002

Webb Report Table of Contents

Archives of Webb Reports

THE WEBB REPORT - December 2002

Pain & Suffering Avoids Limits

According to a recent story in the New York Times, "as all sorts of limitations have recently been placed on punitive damages, creative lawyers have shifted their attention to pain and suffering, a little-scrutinized form of compensation for psychic harm."

One of the most outstanding cases involves Linda M. Gilbert who works as a millwright at the DaimlerChrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit. A millwright is sort of a troubleshooter, the work is difficult, and it is unusual to find a woman doing it.

In 1999, a jury in Detroit found that Gilbert's male co-workers had harassed her for years with pornographic messages, vulgar talk and insults. It awarded her $21 million. The award is the largest affirmed for an individual sexual harassment plaintiff in United States history.

None of the money was for punitive damages, which are meant to punish and deter the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff. Punitive damages are often said to be the main reason for outsized jury awards. In fact, Michigan, like a number of other states, prohibits punitive damages in most cases. Instead, the jury in this case, awarded Gilbert $1 million for potential lost earnings and medical expenses and $20 million for pain and suffering.

Victor E. Schwartz, co-author of the leading law school textbook on torts, said: "Plaintiffs' lawyers are repackaging their punitive-damages claims to put the money load into pain-and-suffering damages." The two sorts of damages are intended to be conceptually different.

Catherine M. Sharkey, a fellow at Columbia Law School, said: "Pain and suffering focusing on the harm done to the plaintiff. Punitive damages look to the conduct of the defendant. It's a separate question whether juries in practice have in mind a certain number and will get there no matter what."

The company lawyer in this case, Elizabeth Hardy, said: "There is absolutely no correlation between $21 million and the impact that cartoons and verbal comments have had on this woman. Gilbert's attorney, Geoffrey N. Fieger, who had asked the jury for $140 million, said the award merely compensates his client for the effect of the abuse. Gilbert still works at the plant and has not received any of the awarded money. At Daimler-Chrysler, she has made as much as $100,000 a year, with overtime.

Recent United States Supreme Court decisions have encouraged judges to scrutinize punitive awards, while damages for pain and suffering, and other awards that compensate plaintiffs for losses, are treated with deference. In addition, punitive damages have recently become subject to the federal income tax, while pain-and-suffering awards are not.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - November 2002

Suit Against Ford Motors Dismissed on Comments Made

According to Danny Hakim writing for The New York Times, a sexual harassment suit against the Ford Motor Company was dismissed because the plaintiff and her lawyers discussed with reporters evidence that the court deemed inadmissible, even though a good deal of that information was a matter of public record.

Circuit Court Judge William J. Giovan in Detroit, ruled that the plaintiff and her attorney had released information about the defendant's previous conviction in their attempt to prejudice potential jurors, and in violation of Michigan law. "The behavior in question has been intentional, premeditated and intransigent. It was designed to reach the farthest boundaries of the public consciousness," the judge said.

Hakim said some legal experts said the finding was highly unusual, especially in its implications for the right of a plaintiff in harassment case to speak out freely, and because the courts typically use the screening process during jury selection to resolve concern about what jurors know.

Herschel Fink, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues said: "I don't know why it should be that the woman who was the alleged victim of the sex harassment can't continue t talk about it. I believe as a matter of First Amendment law, she has a right to talk about it."

Miranda Massie, the woman's lawyer, said: "Women have the right to talk about abuse. That's what this comes down to."

The woman filed her sexual bias and harassment case two years ago against the company and a supervisor. She was an inspector at the Ford assembly plant in Wixom, Michigan. The woman is one of four women who have sued Ford in cases that involved accusations against the same supervisor. Three of the suits have been dismissed, though the woman in this most recent case said she plans to appeal and another of the plaintiffs has already filed an appeal.

The woman in this case claims that the supervisor exposed himself to her many times, demanded oral sex and followed her home. Company officials said their investigation showed that her accusations, as well as those of the three other women, were without merit.

Part of Ford's legal strategy has been to seek a dismissal of the last woman's case on the grounds that she and her attorney prejudiced potential jurors by talking about the supervisor's conviction in 1995 on charges of exposing himself to three young women. The conviction was expunged from his record last year as Michigan law permits when the person meets various good behavior requirements.

While there was no order forbidding discussion issued in this case, a little-used Michigan law forbids publicizing a conviction that has been expunged.

Judge Giovan had also said in his decision that the plaintiff's lawyer had been discourteous to him in statements to the news media. He cited a television interview in which the woman's attorney said that "Metro Detroit has a company-town feeling, and it's hard to get a fair hearing from any of these judges when you're going against the Ford Motor Company."

The attorney had asked previously that the judge recuse himself because a member Massie's law firm had served as the chairman of a fund-raising event for the judge's re-election campaign. The judge refused.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - October 2002

Harassment Suit in US Gets India's Attention

A sexual harassment suit was recently filed in the United States against a top executive of a leading Indian software producer. According to experts in India, the suit is forcing many Indian software companies, many of which have a large number of Indian employees working in the U.S., to focus on their workplace policies and procedures.

About two-thirds of Indian's $7.54 billion of export revenue comes from the United States, where sexual harassment is treated far more seriously than in India.

This was the first of its kind controversy to hit an Indian company. In the suit, Phaneesh Murthy, head of global sales and marketing for Infosys Technologies, Indian's largest listed software exporter, quit last July after a former U.S. employee, Reka Maximovitch, sued him and the company, alleging sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

Murthy, who was based in Fremont, California, was also an Infosys board member and the company's highest paid employee.

The woman, who had been Murphy's executive assistant, claims she was subjected to verbal and visual sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances. She also claims that the company failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from taking place and from happening again.

The mere filing of the suit has had a substantial impact on Indian companies. "The Murthy incident has put the fear of the lawsuit in Indian companies with operations abroad," according to Vasanthi Srinivasan, assistant professor in human resource management at India's leading business school, the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - September 2002

$1 Million Award Overturned

In reversing a jury award of $1 million, the Eighth Circuit said that the evidence presented at trial illustrates that the woman was upset and embarrassed by the man's advances and his "boorish" behavior, but that she "failed to show that these occurrences in the aggregate were so severe and extreme that a reasonable person would find that the terms and conditions of her employment had been altered." The court added that to "clear the high threshold of actionable harm," the woman needed to prove her workplace was "permeated" with discrimination and intimidation, something she failed to do.

The court said that the man's actions were "boorish, chauvinistic, and decidedly immature, but we cannot say they created an objectively hostile work environment permeated with sexual harassment...Numerous cases have rejected hostile work environment claims premised upon facts equally or more egregious than the conduct at issue here."

The woman was an in-house technical writer at the Missouri General Motors Corporation plant. She alleged that two weeks after starting her job, she met with the alleged harasser at a local restaurant to discuss work. She said he made sexual overtures, which she rebuffed. While the man made no further overtures, she claimed that he became more critical and hostile.

The woman also claimed that later the man inappropriately touched her several times; made her use his computer with a nude woman screensaver; and displayed a planter in his office of a man with a cactus protruding from him zipper. He also allegedly twice showed her a phallic-shaped child's pacifier. He created a poster for a "Man Hater's Club of America" and portrayed the woman as the first president and CEO.

The woman first contacted the union and GMC officials in April 1977. The union told her to talk with the company. Management then promptly responded and investigated her allegations and asked her to prepare a written statement described her claims. The woman resigned before submitting the written statement to the company.

She then filed a sex discrimination charge with EEOC in October 1997 and later sued the company in federal court under Title VII and state law, alleging sexual harassment and constructive discharge.

A federal jury awarded the woman her $4,600 in back pay, $700,000 in emotional distress damages on her sexual harassment claim, and $300,000 in emotional distress on the constructive discharge claim.

However, the Eighth Circuit said the specifics of the case did not rise to the level of harassment and that although the man's actions may have been inappropriate, it was neither severe nor pervasive.

"The evidence presented at trial illustrates that the woman was upset and embarrassed by the posting of the derogatory poster and was disturbed by the man's advances and his boorish behavior. But as a matter of law, she had failed to show that these occurrences in the aggregate were so severe and extreme that a reasonable person would find that the terms and conditions of her employment had been altered," the court said.

The court added that "to clear the high threshold of actionable harm," the woman needed to prove her workplace was "permeated" with discrimination and intimidation, something she failed to do. Lacking in the evidence, the court said, was evidence of frequency, severity, physical threats or humiliation, or evidence it interfered with the woman's work.

"It is apparent that these incidents made her uncomfortable, but they do not meet the standard necessary to actionable sexual harassment," the court said.

The court also rejected the woman's claims that she was constructively discharged from her position. While finding that her working conditions "were certainly not ideal," and sometimes "offensive and disrespectful," the court said they were not intolerable enough to force a reasonable person to resign.

The court said that the when woman first contacted the company before she resigned, she did not give adequate opportunity to respond to her complaints and she did not follow up with the documentation the company had requested in order to conduct an investigation.

The case is Duncan v. General Motors Corp., 8th Cir., No. 003544, 8/22/02.

The Eighth Circuit covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - August 2002

Ignorance No Excuse for Mom Car Dealership Owner

In reversing a jury award of $1 million, the Eighth Circuit said that the evidence presented at trial illustrates that the woman was upset and embarrassed by the man's advances and his "boorish" behavior, but that she "failed to show that these occurrences in the aggregate were so severe and extreme that a reasonable person would find that the terms and conditions of her employment had been altered." The court added that to "clear the high threshold of actionable harm," the woman needed to prove her workplace was "permeated" with discrimination and intimidation, something she failed to do.

The court said that the man's actions were "boorish, chauvinistic, and decidedly immature, but we cannot say they created an objectively hostile work environment permeated with sexual harassment...Numerous cases have rejected hostile work environment claims premised upon facts equally or more egregious than the conduct at issue here."

The woman was an in-house technical writer at the Missouri General Motors Corporation plant. She alleged that two weeks after starting her job, she met with the alleged harasser at a local restaurant to discuss work. She said he made sexual overtures, which she rebuffed. While the man made no further overtures, she claimed that he became more critical and hostile.

The woman also claimed that later the man inappropriately touched her several times; made her use his computer with a nude woman screensaver; and displayed a planter in his office of a man with a cactus protruding from him zipper. He also allegedly twice showed her a phallic-shaped child's pacifier. He created a poster for a "Man Hater's Club of America" and portrayed the woman as the first president and CEO.

The woman first contacted the union and GMC officials in April 1977. The union told her to talk with the company. Management then promptly responded and investigated her allegations and asked her to prepare a written statement described her claims. The woman resigned before submitting the written statement to the company.

She then filed a sex discrimination charge with EEOC in October 1997 and later sued the company in federal court under Title VII and state law, alleging sexual harassment and constructive discharge.

A federal jury awarded the woman her $4,600 in back pay, $700,000 in emotional distress damages on her sexual harassment claim, and $300,000 in emotional distress on the constructive discharge claim.

However, the Eighth Circuit said the specifics of the case did not rise to the level of harassment and that although the man's actions may have been inappropriate, it was neither severe nor pervasive.

"The evidence presented at trial illustrates that the woman was upset and embarrassed by the posting of the derogatory poster and was disturbed by the man's advances and his boorish behavior. But as a matter of law, she had failed to show that these occurrences in the aggregate were so severe and extreme that a reasonable person would find that the terms and conditions of her employment had been altered," the court said.

The court added that "to clear the high threshold of actionable harm," the woman needed to prove her workplace was "permeated" with discrimination and intimidation, something she failed to do. Lacking in the evidence, the court said, was evidence of frequency, severity, physical threats or humiliation, or evidence it interfered with the woman's work.

"It is apparent that these incidents made her uncomfortable, but they do not meet the standard necessary to actionable sexual harassment," the court said.

The court also rejected the woman's claims that she was constructively discharged from her position. While finding that her working conditions "were certainly not ideal," and sometimes "offensive and disrespectful," the court said they were not intolerable enough to force a reasonable person to resign.

The court said that the when woman first contacted the company before she resigned, she did not give adequate opportunity to respond to her complaints and she did not follow up with the documentation the company had requested in order to conduct an investigation.

The case is Duncan v. General Motors Corp., 8th Cir., No. 003544, 8/22/02.

The Eighth Circuit covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - July 2002

Sexual Harassment Revisited...The PEER Principles

Has sexual harassment as a corporate concern gone away? Not hardly. Every week new cases are cited in various newspapers, magazines and journals. The costs of sexual harassment keep rising and the size of judgments against companies where sexual harassment incidents have occurred continues to climb. So what can you do to help prevent a major financial disaster of this type from being visited on your organization?

As a Certified Shades of Gray consultant, I am frequently asked what steps companies can take to help limit incurring liability for sexual harassment incidents.

The best thing a company can do to prevent such an occurrence is to not allow them to happen in the first place. You can help accomplish this by following the PEER Principles. This stands for policies, education, enforcement, and reinforcement. Each element is critically important to your company having a well-developed sexual harassment prevention program in place.

Policies: In an investigation, one of the first things looked for is the company's policy concerning sexual harassment. Here are some of the questions that will typically be asked. Does the policy clearly define sexual harassment on a behavioral basis? Is it written in plain language so all workers can understand it? Does it clearly outline the company's incident reporting procedure? Does it identify the steps that will be taken should such an incident occur?

Education: The first step in educating employees on preventing sexual harassment is to ensure that every person in the organization receives a copy of the policy. But don't let it end there. Bring all workers, from the CEO on down, together for sexual harassment training. This should be done with groups of 15-25 persons at a time. The training should cover all aspects of sexual harassment, from its definition to specific actions the company will take to investigate and, if necessary, punish any policy violations.

Enforcement: Your company's tolerance for sexual harassment should be zero! Once an incident is suspected or reported, immediate corrective action MUST occur. This action should include an in-depth investigation, using an outside investigator if necessary, as well as application of appropriate internal sanctions that may vary from simply a note in an employee's file to immediate termination, depending on the severity of the incident.

Reinforcement: Just because you have policies and an employee education program doesn't take away the company's responsibility. It must maintain on-going reinforcement practices, such as annual training, as well as reviewing responsibilities and requirements throughout the year to keep the issue current in workers' minds.

Be aware that sexual harassment comes in a wide variety of shades of gray. I may range from an inadvertent off-color comment to a physical assault that constitutes criminal activity and should be reported to the authorities. Always keep in mind that if you attempt to ignore sexual harassment in your company, the only things that may go away are your workers and your bottom line.

This article was submitted by Craig Woodacre, the most recently certified Shades of Gray consultant. For more information about Craig, visit www.shadesofgray.com and select the certified consultants' button.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - May 2002

Sexual Harassment Alleged in Schools

The Massachusetts state Department of Social Services recently suggested that Lexington school officials take action against a Fiske Elementary School employee accused of sexually harassing nearly a dozen male students.

DSS has no jurisdiction in the case because the employee is not a "caretaker" with direct contact with children. However DSS Commissioner Harry Spence said that the allegations raise "serious and substantive" concerns, and that he will suggest actions that he thinks the school officials should take. Spence made his recommendations in a letter to the school officials and the parents of the alleged victims.

News of Spence's letter, along with the release to parents of his agency's findings in its own investigation, have added to parents' anger toward the Lexington public schools for its handling of the allegations.

Two families came forward last September saying that an employee had made sexually explicit remarks to their sons. Three months later, at least nine other families made similar accusations.

The parents say they are upset that the employee, who is not a teacher, was reinstated after being placed on paid leave for one week following the initial complaints. He was placed on paid leave again after the other families came forward in December, and has remained on paid leave since then.

The employee, who has not been arrested or charged, has denied that he made sexually explicit comments to boys about their bodies or watched them in the bathroom at the school. The 41-page DSS report also shows that caseworkers received three letters supporting the employee, but the agency did not find the man's denials credible.

According to documents obtained by the Boston Globe, "The DSS investigation suggest that sexually inappropriate statement have been made to a large number of students."

The Middlesex District Attorney's office is continuing to investigate, and school officials are conducting their own investigation.

"I know we take this seriously, that we want to investigate this, determine the facts, and take appropriate action," said Scott Burson, chairman of the Lexington School Committee. "We welcome any cooperation or assistance from either DSS or the Middlesex District Attorney's office."

Included in DSS's findings are statements made by another school system worker that the employee had harassed an older student four or five years ago, allegations that allegedly were raised with the school principal at the time, Joanne Benton, who is now superintendent of schools. But in the DSS documents, both Benton and the employee denied that there were any past problems.

Burson said he has seen no evidence that the employee had previous problems.

As of this issue of The Webb Report, the District Attorney's office has begun investigating whether the school district botched the investigations into the original allegations. Additionally, the district has moved to terminate the employee.

A spokesman for the District Attorney's office said, "We are continuing to review both the underlying charges and some of the process surrounding the school district's response to the charges. We are also working with the school district and other authorities to try and resolve some of the outstanding issues in Lexington."

The parents of the alleged victims said it's too late.

"We are deeply relieved that this man has been taken away from our children," according to one parent. "But it saddens and troubles us that it took the pressure of the district attorney and the Department of Social Services to make our School Department officials to protect our children," she said.

According to the latest list of allegations against the man, he also allegedly exposed himself at least once to boys using the bathroom and watched them urinate. He allegedly made lewd comments to boys about their sexual maturity as well.

The complaints are grounds for termination because "as an adult employed in a public school setting, you (the employee) knew or should have known of the inappropriateness of your behavior in the boy's bathroom and in the presence of students in other locations in the schoolhouse," the statement from the school districts says.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - April 2002

Sexual Harassment Versus Free Speech

Eugene Volokh, professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, said that courts are beginning to recognize that the government is restricting through workplace harassment law, some speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Volokh spoke at the American Bar Association's annual meeting.

According to Volokh, management attorneys need to know how to raise a First Amendment defense, and plaintiffs' attorneys need to be aware of the development.

Roxanne Conlin, a plaintiffs' attorney, said she had read all of Volokh's law review articles on the First Amendment, and that while she found them very interested, she disagreed with him "vehemently."

Conlin said the courts, in enforcing civil rights laws, rejected arguments based on the First Amendment in the 1960s and '70s and that the courts will also reject such arguments in regard to sexual harassment.

"The intent and effect of harassment is not only to offend and humiliate, but also, and most importantly, to exclude and segregate. That is illegal whether it is done by conduct or by speech," Conlin said. She is with the Des Moines, Iowa law firm of Roxanne B. Conlin and Associates.

Another attorney, Pamela L. Hemminger, who is a management attorney, said there are so few cases involving the First Amendment as a defe3nse to harassment claims because the employer is caught in the middle. She said she does not believe that this issue has been fully addressed or finally decided.

Hemminger said that from the perspective of an employer that has adopted a strong anti-harassment policy, the employer's best interest is not served by aligning itself with the harassment, disavowing its policy, or having its policy upset by litigation.

She also said that for employers to use the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense, they must show that they have an effective anti-harassment policy that the plaintiff unreasonably refused to use. To assert the alleged harasser's First Amendment right would undermine the employer's affirmative defense. Hemminger is with the Los Angeles firm of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher.

Volokh said that face-to-face insults are not protected, saying that about 90 percent of all hostile environment harassment cases would not pose problems under the First Amendment because most cases involve unlawful conduct, such as groping or extortion, and are not based only on speech.

However, Volokh said, even in those cases, the First Amendment might be used as a defense if the case were based in part on protected speech.

Volokh concluded by saying that when a hostile environment harassment case is based in part on protected speech--such as art, jokes, political statements, or an attempt to restrict speech based on its content or viewpoint--it is to the advantage of defendants to raise the First Amendment issue.

For more information of Professor Volokh's thesis, visit www.law.ucla.edu/faculty/voloka/harass.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - March 2002

Tenth Circuit Helps Define Pervasive

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in a claim brought by three Hispanic house painters who worked for a construction company for three weeks before being fired. The court found that a certain number of comments over a specific period of time was not necessary in determining that the harassment was "pervasive."

The painters claimed that during their employment with the company they were called, were told about, or overheard racial epithets that were made throughout the office or work area. All the painters were U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. After complaining, they claim they were terminated. When they filed their lawsuit, it was dismissed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals allowed the claim to go forward, saying that a jury should decide whether the company created a hostile work environment for the employees. The circuit court said the district court erred in discounting the numerous epithets the painters heard or were told about during their short employment and in not viewing the totality of the work environment.

The company argued that the men were fired because of "business necessity"--they were not efficient and not completing enough work--but the company offered no evidence of this claim.

The company also argued that the men were in the office for only 15 minutes a day and that the foul language reflected "the coarse dominions of the construction industry."

The appeals court said that the district court's inquiry should not be whether the employer made the best choice, but whether it was the real choice for firing the three painters. In addition, the court noted that the "shorter exposure time supports the equally plausible inference the abuse was so offensive as to taint the entire job site."

The case is McCowan v. All Star Maint. Inc., 10th Cir., No. 00-2040, 11/30/01.

The Tenth Circuit covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - February 2002

Canadian Court Bristles with Scorn

The Ontario Court of Appeals ruled that managers who make sexual advances to their employees are courting disaster, whether or not the acts take place outside the workplace and appear to be mutual. The ruling, which according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, "bristled with outrage and scorn for the extensive findings of a lower court judge," said that the Consumers' Association of Canada was justified in dismissing its executive director.

"The respondent used his position as executive director of the CAC to engage in a course of sexually harassing conduct towards the female employees," the court said.

Norman Grosman, an expert in employment law, said the judgement sends a very clear message that employers must watch their workplaces closely for sexual harassment. "This is a very strong message to every employer that if you don't have one, it is time to get a sexual harassment policy in place," Grosman said. "If you have issues of promiscuity in the workplace, you've got to take them seriously, investigate and take action where appropriate."

The ruling overturned a wrongful dismissal award of 18 months' salary, made in 1999 by Justice Colin McKinnon of the Ontario Superior Court. The appeals court said that far from being the aggrieved party, the man sexually harassed his female employees by subjecting them to behavior such as witnessing his after-hours skinny-dipping and dips in hotel hot tubs.

The judges noted that after one business trip, the man took a young employee to a strip club, where he hired a lap dancer. He engaged in sexual discussions with another employee and openly carried on a sexual affair with another, according to the court.

The court also found that in one instance, the man offered prospects of advancement in exchange for sexual favors. It said his actions transformed the CAC office into a sexually charged rumor mill in which female employees were part of his sexual escapades or were afraid to report or disapprove of them.

"In the face of this preponderance of evidence, the trial judge erred by suggesting that the man should not be held accountable for any prevailing sexual culture at the CAC--or that he should not be held accountable because there was no sexual harassment policy in place there," Justice Kathryn Feldman said.

The court said that the man characterized his actions as consensual matters outside of work with women he had made friends with, but the women testified otherwise. It found fault with Judge McKinnon for accepted the man's explanations and finding his conduct "inoffensive," instead of seeing the situation as it truly was.

"When a supervisor in a position of authority offers advancement in employment in exchange for sexual favors, this conduct represents the clearest abuse of power," according to Judge Feldman.

An attorney for the man, Robert Monti, said the ruling runs counter to the appeal court's often stated belief that a trial judge is in a better position to assess witnesses that is an appeal court.

"For some reason, the court has chosen to casually ignore that and make its own findings on issue of credibility," Monti said. "I think that has a lot to do with the charges of sexual harassment. I think they really wanted to emphasize zero tolerance."

Monti said that any supervisor should be extremely cautious of "mixing sex and work" in any manner, since an employer could use it against the supervisor, even years later.

Top

THE WEBB REPORT - January 2002

Mistrial Declared in Harassment Case

A federal judge in Chicago declared a mistrial in the sexual harassment case of a forest preserve police officer, after a juror admitted hearing a morning news report of a second jury's $3 million verdict in the same case. The mistrial means another trial might be necessary unless the Forest Preserve District decides to settle.

In the case, a single civil trial took place simultaneously before two separate juries on the woman's allegations that she endured years of sexual harassment from co-workers and retaliation from supervisors because of her complaints. The woman, Cynthia Spina, was a Cook County Forest Preserve police officer. The two simultaneous trials on the same case were said by local attorneys to be the first case of its kind in federal court in Chicago.

At the end of the trial before the first jury, the jury awarded Spina $3 million--$1 million more than her attorney asked for. However, before the second jury could begin deliberations over whether seven former or current district police officials were at fault, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys declared a mistrial after learning that a juror knew of the verdict from a TV news report.

The mistrial does not affect the $3 million judgement.

Spina's attorney, Monica McFadden, said Spina was the first woman to work in the district's Area 2 on Chicago's North Side and "broke the police code of silence" by complaining about the harassment and filing her 1998 lawsuit. One member of the five-woman, three-man jury said he didn't find the harassment egregious, but that a message needed to be sent to the Forest Preserve District for not acting with regard to Spina's complaint. The juror said, "The county didn't respond. They need to change, I mean catch up to the times."

Spina testified at the trial that she had dreamed of being a police officer since she was 11 because of her father's unfulfilled wishes for a law enforcement career. She joined the Preserve police force in 1993 and said she soon had difficulties. She said she continually found pornography in her mailbox, that male officers spread rumors she was secretly married to another officer, and one co-worker purposely bumped his belly into hers.

Spina said the harassment continued despite her complaints to supervisors, so she finally filed a complaint with the internal affairs division. McFadden said the complaints were investigated, but that a supervisor terminated the investigation and then Spina filed her suit.

McFadden said Spina was isolated to the point that once an officer failed to back her on one as assignment.

Penny Harrington, a former police chief in Portland, Oregon and founder of the National Center for Women in Policing, testified during the trial that a woman officer who is forced to complain is labeled a "beefer" and is distance from the others.

Additional women officers on the district force testified at trial that sexual harassment was rampant since the 1980s, yet it was only in 1997 that the district established a written policy, according to McFadden.

Another juror said, "Nothing was ever done, from the information provided to us. We really strongly urge Cook County to settle this case."

Cook County Commissioner Michael Quigley said he regretted the lost recreational opportunities if the district ends up paying the $3 million. "It comes at a terrible time," he said.

The district has had money problems, running a $17 million deficit last year. However it appears the district's money problems may continue to grow with the case.

McFadden said she plans to petition the judge to have the county pay Spina's legal expenses, estimated at $800,000, but that she and her client are willing to discuss settling the case.

"We'll listen to anything the county has to say. But a verdict of this size has to be taken into consideration," McFadden said. She said the county offered to settle the case a few months before trial for $500,000.

A spokesman for the county said the district management needed to confer with lawyers over its options, which include appealing the $3 million verdict.

Top

Archives of Webb Reports

-

© The Employers Association, 1996- 
Associated Trademarks and All Rights Are Reserved 

Web Development: Wind's Eye Design, Inc.