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$7.5 million awarded by St. Louis jury in retaliation claim

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury has awarded a former police officer for the City of St. Louis a $7.5 million judgment in the sexual harassment suit she filed after experiencing retaliation for filing a complaint with the department in 2011.

The jury's verdict is against the police board, which is a state agency, and is based on allegations that the plaintiff made before control of the police department was ceded to City Hall in 2013.

The jury ultimately ruled in the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners' favor on a discrimination claim, but awarded the former officer $7.3 million in punitive and $300,000 in compensatory damages. One of the plaintiff's attorneys said that the verdict sends a message that "retaliation and discrimination in the workplace ends today."

The jury verdict may be one of the highest awards in the state for cases of this nature, according to another attorney involved in the case. It's likely it could be reduced to approximately $3 million, legal expenses included, but could actually be increased if the defendants elect to appeal.

Problems arose when the officer's supervisor made up a "Wanted" poster with the plaintiff's picture on it and comments like "Subject wanted for having the baddest body in the St. Louis area," and "Use extreme caution when approaching this subject. Approach this subject from behind for your own safety."

The supervisor also asked the married officer to come sit in his lap and remove her bulletproof vest and invited her to go skinny-dipping in his spa tub.

When the plaintiff filed a departmental complaint, the supervisor and a lieutenant retaliated by denying her time to attend training that others were allowed off for, assigning her only undesirable shifts and unfairly evaluating her performance in reviews.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaints of same treatment is never okay in the workplace. It's demoralizing and divisive, and affects the entire atmosphere of the workplace. If you are harassed or wrongfully terminated for your complaints, you may have to seek justice through the civil court system.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Jury awards $7.5 million to ex-St. Louis officer who claimed harassment, retaliation" Robert Patrick, Mar. 21, 2014

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