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St. Louis juror's misconduct may invalidate plaintiff's award

A juror's Google search during jury deliberations has resulted in the defendants filing an affidavit to reopen a case that resulted in a $7.5 million award for the plaintiff, a former St. Louis police officer. The woman sued her former employer for sexual harassment in 2011. The trial concluded in March with an award of $300,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages of $7.2 million.

The plaintiff filed suit after experiencing retaliation in the form of unfavorable shifts, denials of requested time off for training that others were routinely given and different evaluations during performance reviews from her sergeant and a lieutenant. This conduct was after she complained about repeated instances of unwelcome sexual behavior from the sergeant.

The juror's alleged improper actions resulted from his Googling "where do punitive damages go?" as the jurors mulled awarding punitive damages in the case after already settling on the decision that the plaintiff had been a victim of retaliation following complaints of sexual harassment. His search brought him to a Wikipedia entry, and the juror told the others that the plaintiff would receive a portion or all of the money.

The juror called the Missouri Attorney General's Office and admitted doing the Google search after seeing one of plaintiff's attorney's lips moving as he mouthed an expletive in amazement at the large award for his client. The juror then said he realized that they had awarded the former officer too much. His call was made out of a hope the award could be reduced.

Attorneys for the defendant, the St. Louis police board, claim that their client deserves a new trial for other reasons also, including that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to support her allegations and that the jury received flawed instructions. Additionally, they maintain that the state-run board had surrendered control of the police force to City Hall, making punitive damages inappropriate since they can't "punish or deter the alleged wrongdoer."

Litigation pursued after plaintiffs are unable to resolve situations of sexual harassment in the workplace often results in lucrative settlements and judgments when backed by credible witnesses and evidence.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Ex-cop's $7.5 million award could be at risk due to St. Louis juror's Google search" Robert Patrick, May. 21, 2014

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