April 11, 2008

Sacramento Federal Jury Awards $4.1 Million in Punitive Damages for Sexual Assault

According to the Sacramento Bee, "A federal jury deliberated 30 minutes Thursday, then awarded a woman more than $4.1 million in punitive damages after finding that her former employer acted with 'malice, oppression or with reckless indifference' in failing to protect her from aggravated sexual assault by a state worker. The jury of five women and three men awarded Sharon Paterson $827,500 in general damages three weeks ago against Inter-Con Security Systems Inc., a private firm that contracts with the state Department of General Services for guards at state facilities in Sacramento. . . . In a hallway interview, Inter-Con trial attorney Matthew Ruggles pointed out Thursday's award was made under that part of the federal civil code dealing with workplace discrimination and hostility, and it caps punitive damages at $300,000. 'We don't think punitive damages should have been awarded at all, but it's kind of academic,' Ruggles said. Paterson attorney Lawrence King said he will oppose a motion to reduce the award on the ground that U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. erred in not detailing for the jury the elements of punitive damages under comparable state law, which has no cap. As to Thursday's award, King said, 'I'm gratified the jury understood that, to get the attention of a company like Inter-Con, the verdict must be substantial, so something like this won't happen again.' . . . 'It didn't seem like they really took sexual harassment seriously, and there was nothing we saw to show that things changed' after Paterson's lawsuit was filed in 2005, one juror said."