The LA Times reports in an article entitled “Jury awards $2.3 million in LAPD harassment case” that a federal jury has awarded a female police officer $2.3 million for sexual harassment and retaliation by members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Traffic Division in 1996. Melissa Borck, et al., v. City of Los Angeles, et al. (Case No. CV 99-11575-TJH(Ex)) was tried before U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
- Officer Melissa Borck, 45, alleged that a male officer pushed her head to his groin and said, “I thought you’d never ask” and that female officers were ordered to pick up dry cleaning, lunch or coffee for male officers.
- Borck alleged that the harassment had caused her to give birth to a stillborn baby only 19 weeks into her pregnancy.
- Borck continues to work for the LAPD and says she and fellow female officers continue to face harassment and retaliation from the LAPD
- The award comprised $1 million economic damages (e.g., lost wages, medical bills) and $1.3 million in non-economic damages (primarily emotional distress).
- The case was tried twice. Borck lost the first trial but U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter declared a mistrial when a juror was heard saying after the verdict, “We weren’t here to hear about her dead baby”.
- A few months ago, in November 2008, the LAPD had settled another sexual harassment lawsuit for $2.25 million.
- The City of Los Angeles is deciding whether to appeal.
My main takeaway: the emotional distress award of $1.3 million in particular is large, showing that juries continue to give plaintiffs substantial awards when justice requires it, even amidst a severe economic recession. This verdict should add fuel to the growing debate over whether severe recessionary conditions are causing juries to become more anti-plaintiff or anti-defendant.
Congratulations to attorney Matthew McNicholas for coming back from a loss to obtain justice for Officer Borck.