On March 28, 2018, a federal jury in the Eastern District of Michigan reached a verdict in an employment lawsuit involving hostile work environment and retaliation claims on the basis of race and national origin.
The jury, pulled from citizens living within a 100-mile radius of the courthouse, found that the employer was liable, finding that the employee was exposed to a “hostile work environment” and that he was retaliated against for opposing unlawful discrimination.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $1.7 million in back pay, $100,000 in emotional distress damages and $15,000,000 in punitive damages against the employer. (Kerr Russell had no involvement in this case.)
This is a painful example of how juries may be likely to react in the post “me too” era. Kerr Russell has seen a significant rise in the number of harassment claims against its clients which is consistent with the experience of employers across the country. “Employees are not afraid to speak up about perceived acts of harassment by coworkers, managers and customers and juries are not afraid to punish employers who do not react properly in response to employee complaints,” explained Mark Knoth, employment and labor practice group leader at Kerr Russell.
Knoth explained that “the most vulnerable employers are those with ineffective policies in place and those with a management staff that is untrained on how to properly respond to events which occur in the workplace”.
Kerr Russell recommends that all employers review and update their policies as needed, assess the sufficiency of training provided and determine if they have purchased a good policy of employment practices liability insurance (“EPLI”) to ensure that insurance coverage is adequate and that the EPLI policy allows them to choose their own legal counsel.
Practice AreasLabor, Employment, Employee Benefits and ERISA