Punitive Damages Awarded In Race Harassment Case

The United States Court of Appeals has upheld a $3.5 million punitive damage award against Chrysler motor company. In May v. Chrysler Grp. LLC, a Cuban Jewish pipefitter filed a lawsuit asserted that he was forced to endure a “hostile work environment” based on his race, religion and national origin. In his lawsuit, he cited dozens of death threats and derogatory graffiti messages.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” This includes not only discrimination – i.e. where your employer disciplines or discharges you because of your race or sex – but also harassment. Harassment is hard to define but is considered unwelcome conduct that creates a hostile environment based on your race that is sufficiently “severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of your employment.”

If you believe you may have a claim for harassment or discrimination, consulting with an experienced Atlanta workplace harassment attorney is a good idea.

Here, the worker experienced harassment that spanned more than 3 years, with little action from Chrysler in response to his complaints.

May began working at Chrysler’s assembly plant in 1988. In 2001 he filed a complaint based on workplace race and national origin based harassment and retaliation. Beginning in 2002 he started to receive death threats. His car was also vandalized.

Additional incidents included:

• Graffiti stating “Otto Cuban Jew die;”
• At least five messages with the theme “a good Jew is a dead Jew;” and • A note in his toolbox that said, “time is short,” proclaimed “death to the Jews,” said “we hate the Jews,” and ended with “Heil Hitler” and a swastika.

Despite complaining to the company and providing a list of 19 employees who could be responsible for the harassment, Chrysler management did little. They did not interview any one on the lists, and ultimately determined that it was more likely than not that May was responsible, and a company-hired psychiatrist assessed May as being histrionic, narcissistic, paranoid, and deceptive.

A jury awarded punitive damages, and the appellate affirmed this award. The court stated that the company’s response was “shockingly thin as measured against the gravity of May’s harassment.” The company did not investigate suspected employees and did not install surveillance cameras. The remedial measures Chrysler took were all in place about a year into the harassment, and yet it continued for two more years, the court determined. At some point, it said, such an employer response “sinks from negligent to reckless.”

As a result, May was entitled to the punitive damage award.

For more information about harassment or discrimination law, contact a top Atlanta employment discrimination lawyer at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.