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#MeToo’s Impact On Settlements And Jury Verdicts

Published by and on January 23, 2019

Recent significant settlements and jury verdicts in sexual harassment cases reflect the strong sentiment brought about by the #MeToo movement.

Last year, we covered the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) preliminary findings regarding sexual harassment data for Fiscal Year 2018 here. These findings revealed that sexual harassment litigation filed by the EEOC has risen more than 50 percent since FY 2017, and charges filed with the EEOC alleging sexual harassment have risen 14 percent since FY 2017. The EEOC subsequently released its 2018 Performance And Accountability Report containing more detailed findings regarding FY 2018, including information that echoed the preliminary findings on sexual harassment data.

A review of recent EEOC press releases shows several significant settlements for sexual harassment claims:

  • Senior care provider R. MacArthur Corp. will pay $340,000 in damages to settle a lawsuit based on allegations that an 80-year-old client repeatedly groped them and made racially and sexually offensive comments, which the employer failed to act upon.
  • Subway franchisee will pay $80,000 to settle a lawsuit where it was alleged that a store manager sent text messages to two 17-year-old female applicants offering a job in exchange for sex.
  • Applebee’s franchisee will pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit based on allegations that the staff verbally harassing a transgender employee, who was ultimately terminated in retaliation for her complaints.
  • Rosebud Restaurants, Inc. will pay $160,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation, including sexual comments, propositions, and unwelcome touching and assaulting.

The impact of #MeToo can also be seen in jury verdicts for sexual harassment lawsuits, in which juries have awarded significant damages, including large punitive damage awards. At the end of December, a Florida federal jury returned a verdict of $450,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages in a lawsuit brought by the EEOC. The lawsuit alleged that a female farmworker at Favorite Farms was raped by a supervisor and that the company failed to properly investigate the complaint, forced the victim on a leave of absence, and took no action against the supervisor.

This trend can also be seen in other states as well. In Massachusetts, juries have awarded six punitive damage awards over $600,000 in employment discrimination cases since October 2017 (when the average per year is typically one punitive damage award over this amount). These awards included a $3 million punitive damages award in a case against Central Motors of Norwood alleging, among other claims, gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and a $1.35 million punitive damages award in another case involving gender discrimination and retaliation against the Winthrop Police Department. In New York, a federal jury awarded an employee at a Yonkers sugar cane factory $11.7 million in punitive damages in March 2018 for continuous sexual harassment (which was ultimately reduced to $300,000 given Title VII’s caps on punitive damages).

Welter Insight

The number of large settlements and jury awards, especially punitive damages awards, in 2018 reflect the far-reaching effects of #MeToo movement, including in the courtroom. These trends continue to demonstrate the importance of having policies and practices in place to prevent and address such harassment, as well as the importance of taking sexual harassment complaints seriously and thoroughly investing and responding to such complaints.

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