While the #MeToo movement has brought international attention to the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace, its most noted effect has been in bringing down well-known offenders in top fields. #MeToo formally began in late 2017, but sexual harassment lawsuits against major companies have been going on for years.
Juries have been sympathetic - some of the women who endured sexual harassment by employers and co-workers have received huge damage awards, although most have been reduced on appeal or through negotiated settlements. The fact remains that the best way to ensure a company takes sexual harassment seriously is the threat of a huge award if it is brought to court.
Ani Chopourian vs. Catholic Healthcare West
In 2012, Ani Chopourian, a former physician’s assistant at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, California, was awarded nearly $168 million - $125 million in punitive damages and $42.7 million for lost wages and mental anguish – by a jury after an 11-day trial.
Chopourian alleged that during the two years she worked in the hospital’s cardiovascular surgery unit, she was subject to “filthy” conversations among doctors and staff regarding their sex lives and unwanted sexual advances, including touching.
She was also subject to demeaning comments, especially regarding her Armenian background. Among her complaints: One surgeon greeted her daily by saying, “I’m horny,” and then hitting her on her rear end. A judge reduced the award to $82 million, but the amount was vacated because Chopourian’s lawyers and the hospital negotiated a settlement.
Ashley Alford vs. Aaron’s Rents
In 2011, Alford won a $95 million federal court verdict in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) suit against Aaron’s Rents, an Illinois lease to own chain. Alford alleged her manager sexually assaulted and harassed her, and complained to the company, which did nothing. Then, the manager attacked her, pulled her shirt up and masturbated and ejaculated on her. The original jury verdict was reduced to $41 million due to federal damage cap, but the attorneys in the case reached an out-of-court settlement in $6 million range.
Linda Gilbert vs. Daimler Chrysler
One of the largest sexual harassment awards dates back to the end of the 20th century, 1999 to be exact. Gilbert was one of the first female millwrights hired at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Michigan in 1992. The harassment started immediately, with name-calling and one worker telling her to wear a dress to work so he could “look up her skirt.”
For seven years, Gilbert put up with constant harassment. She finally sued, and a state court jury awarded her $21 million. Unfortunately, Gilbert’s award was overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court five years later, with the court stating the amount was "so excessive and so clearly the product of passion and prejudice."
Anucha Browne Sanders vs. Madison Square Garden, et al
Browne Sanders, the NBA’s New York Knicks senior vice president of marketing, sued in 2007 after she was fired for complaining that president of basketball operations and head coach Isiah Thomas sexually harassed her.
According to Browne Sanders, Thomas called her a “ho” and a “bitch” and made sexual advances to her. She also claimed he said he was in love with her. Browne Sanders said team owner James Dolan fired her after she complained about Thomas’ behavior and the climate he was fostering under his management.
A jury awarded Browne Sanders $11.6 million in damages, an amount reduced by just $100,000 when attorneys agreed to a $11.5 settlement that would end appeals. Although Browne Sanders brought home a good amount of money from the settlement, it did not affect on Thomas’ career. While no longer in his former position, Thomas still appears on NBATV, a channel managed by the NBA and Turner Sports.
Do you think were harassed at work or by a co-worker? Visit our workplace harassment FAQ page for more information. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by phone at 888.249.6944. All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept CONFIDENTIAL. (There is never a fee for a consultation.)