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,
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 The Buckley Law Firm, LLC for an immediate consultation.