Monday, June 13, 2011

“He grabbed her, threw her to the floor, pulled up her shirt, masturbated and ejaculated on her” = $95 million (wow)

The acts of sexual harassment alleged by Ashley Alford against her supervisor, Richard Moore, in Alford v. Aaron Rents, Inc. are among most horrific I’ve ever encountered (taken from the court’s opinion denying the employer’s motion for summary judgment):

  • Shortly after Alford began working at Aarons, beginning in November 2005, Moore began intentionally and inappropriately touching her.
  • Moore called Alford degrading pet names, such as “Trixie” and “Trix.”
  • Moore gave Alford unwanted gifts for which he demanded “sucky-sucky.”
  • Moore grabbed Alford by her ponytail, unzipped his pants, pulled her head back and hit her in the head with his penis, twice.
  • Moore grabbed Alford, threw her to the floor, pulled up her shirt, masturbated, and ejaculated on her.

As reprehensible as these allegations are, what is perhaps more stunning is that Alford’s employer ignored her complaints for more than a year, and only took action after she involved the police.

Last week, a jury added up all of these facts and returned with one of the largest verdicts ever in a single-plaintiff harassment case—$95 million. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted a representative of the company, who called the verdict “the work of a ‘classic runaway jury.’” I agree. The conduct proven at trial was horrendous, but no single-plaintiff employment case is worth $95 million. 

Nevertheless, this verdict underscores the importance of prompt and thorough investigations into complaints of harassment by employees. The jury did not subject the employer to this verdict because of the acts of a rogue supervisor, but because the company did not do anything about him when the plaintiff complained.

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