A federal jury today awarded $105,000 to a white former Giant Food employe who claimed the company failed to take steps to stop fellow workers from harassing her because of her marriage to a black man even though company officials knew of the alleged harassment.
The civil jury of five whites and one black deliberated about two hours before returning the award -- $5,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages -- against the Landover-based supermarket chain.
The award went to Julianna Ellett, 32, a former truck dispatcher for Giant now living in New Carrollton. Her husband, Lawrence Ellett, 45, is a truck driver for Giant. The couple currently is separated.
Giant attorney Robert F. Condon said the company is considering a possible appeal of the award.
During a three-day trial before U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Young, Julianna Ellett testified that fellow workers called her a "white prima donna" and a "nigger-loving bitch" when she worked at Giant from 1978 to 1982. When she tuned her office radio to black-oriented music, she said, one coworker called it "Mau-Mau music," and another said it "sounds like you're in the middle of a spear-chuckers' convention."
Attorneys for Giant acknowledged that racial harassment occurred but contended that in some cases supervisors and other company officials were not aware of it and thus not responsible. In other cases, they said, when Ellett complained, "corrective steps" were taken by the company equal opportunity officer and other officials.
Ellett's case against Giant originally went to trial in May. At that time, in addition to the harassment accusation, she claimed the company transferred her to a less desirable job and then fired her because of her marriage to Lawrence Ellett. A different jury at that time rejected her claims on the transfer and firing but was hung on the question of harassment. This week's retrial was on the harassment issue only.