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Police officer receives $7.5 million for sexual harassment

An ex-police officer has been awarded $7.5 million in damages after a jury decided that she was the victim of sexual harassment and retaliation. The plaintiff requested that the jurors issue an award that was sufficiently high to send a message that workplace harassment and retaliation must end. The jurors appear to have done just that. The ultimate verdict included compensatory damages of $300,000 and punitive damages of $7.2 million.

One of the attorneys who represented the woman in this case said that the decision could represent the highest award in their state for such a case. However, he also mentioned that the award would likely be reduced to $3 million under the law. Nevertheless, the verdict obviously found the misconduct egregious, and employers everywhere -- including in Pennsylvania -- may want to take notice.

According to the plaintiff's claims in this case, she was subjected to a barrage of harassment, in what the complaint described as an extremely hostile work environment. Allegedly, the woman's supervising sergeant created a pretend "wanted" poster with the plaintiff's picture on it and containing numerous comments about her body and her physical appearance. The poster said that the woman was wanted because her body was the "baddest" in the area. The sergeant allegedly asked the woman to sit in his lap and show him her breasts. He also asked her to go skinny dipping with him in a hot tub.

The female officer, who was married at the time, filed a complaint about the harassment in June 2011. She was then subjected to retaliation, assigned bad shifts, received bad evaluations and was denied leave that had been given to others. According to the woman's attorneys, they offered to settle the claims for $250,000 prior to the trial. They said that the suit was not about the money for the plaintiff. Rather, she wanted to tell her story and be heard.

Sexual harassment and retaliation are reprehensible in any workplace setting, a fact that courts in Pennsylvania and elsewhere take seriously. Especially when a plaintiff can prove that retaliation occurred (that a victim of sexual harassment was punished because he or she reported it), courts will punish those found responsible. Financial awards for lost income and other monetary damages, and punitive damages in particularly severe cases, are possible in cases where liability has been established by relevant proof.

Source: stltoday.com, Jury awards $7.5 million to ex-St. Louis officer who claimed harassment, retaliation, Robert Patrick, March 21, 2014

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