Judge sets aside $3.5 million civil verdict in sexual harassment case

March 20, 2013

A federal judge has set aside a $3.5 million jury award to a former public pool lifeguard in the District who alleged she was sexually harassed by a supervisor and then fired in retaliation for complaining about the conduct.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who presided over the trial last summer, wrote this week that the conduct alleged is “no doubt disgusting and extremely troubling, and the jury had good reason to be disturbed by the facts.”

But he agreed with the District’s Attorney General that the jury’s award to the former Takoma Aquatic Center lifeguard was “so great as to shock the conscience” and “inordinately large.”

Lamberth gave Carmen Jean-Baptiste 21 days to accept a smaller $350,000 award or chose a new trial on the issue of damages.

In his 29-page opinion, Lamberth found that Jean-Baptiste could only be compensated for actual injuries caused by the actions of the District.

Jean-Baptiste testified that the alleged harassment caused her stress, anxiety, depression, but she did not present testimony from a medical or psychological professional on the impact on her physical or mental health.

An attorney for Jean-Baptiste said on Tuesday that she had not yet determined how to proceed.

“It’s not easy for her to hear this and to accept one-tenth of what was awarded,” said her lawyer Gary T. Brown.

At trial, Jean-Baptiste alleged that her supervisor, Rodney Weaver,

spoke to her in sexually crude language, propositioned her and ogled her while she stood before him in her bathing suit, according to court documents. The District failed to respond to her complaints even after she spoke with six supervisors at various levels, she testified.

Soon after filing a written complaint in October 2006, Jean-Baptiste was fired.

In addition to the $3.5 million award, the jury took the unusual step of issuing recommendations to the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to institute training to prevent sexual harassment and it requested an investigation.

The Parks department could not immediately provide information about the status of such an investigation.

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