An appeals court in New York has ordered a factory-owned dealership to pay a former employee more than $2.15 million for sexual harassment.
Maureen McIntyre sued Manhattan Ford-Lincoln-Mercury Inc. of New York for sexual harassment, retaliatory discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She was hired in 1991 as a service representative and, according to trial testimony, repeatedly was subjected by co-workers to sexually explicit comments, sexual advances and groping.
'It was a hostile work environment,' said Andrew Carboy, a New York City attorney who filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting McIntyre on behalf of the National Employment Lawyers Association. 'She was harassed on a daily basis, and the employer failed to investigate her complaints.'
A jury awarded more than $1.3 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages under state and city human rights law. The trial judge, Lorraine Miller, reduced the award to $653,000 for compensation and $3 million in punitive damages.
In its unanimous decision, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court said the jury properly was allowed to consider the wealth of Ford Motor Co., which owned the dealership, in assessing damages. Ford was not sued.
The appeals panel let the compensation award stand. However, it found the $3 million in punitive damages excessive. 'In view of the egregiousness of the dealership's misconduct and the worth of its corporate parent, we regard $1.5 million to be a reasonable sum that is sufficient to punish it and deter future misconduct,' the three-judge appeals panel said.
In a formal statement, Manhattan Ford said it believes the award, even as it was reduced, is 'unwarranted and excessive' and said it will appeal further.
Manhattan Ford also said it has 'instituted a sensitivity and diversity training program for managers and employees to help ensure that no one engages in any type of harassment or discrimination. Sexual harassment, like any type of harassment, is unacceptable at Manhattan Ford-Lincoln-Mercury.'
The dealership is under different management than when McIntyre worked there, but for reasons unrelated to the suit, according to Ford spokesman Jim Cain.
Carboy, the employment law specialist, called the decision significant because the appellate court upheld a far higher level of punitive and emotional distress damages than is usual in New York.
Said Carboy: 'It shows an increasing recognition of the validity of a large award in cases like this.'