Jury Awards $125,000 in State Police Discrimination Case
PROVIDENCE, R. I. (AP) _ A federal court jury Friday ordered the Rhode Island State Police’s two top officers to pay $125,000 to a woman trooper who was the victim of their harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation.
Trooper Mary Nunes, 25, said she was ″just really happy that it ended this way. Ecstatic, actually.″ The defendants and their attorneys refused to comment.
The seven-person jury, which in late October found the state and three other defendants liable, reached its verdict on damages after about 1 1/2 days of deliberations.
The state; Col. Walter Stone, the police superintendent; Maj. Lionel Benjamin, Stone’s deputy; and Lt. Walter Reynolds, commandant of the police training academy, were found liable for various counts of sex discrimination, harassment, retaliaton or invasion of privacy.
″I didn’t really come into this for money, and I think my victory came last week, actually two weeks ago, when they found the department guilty of harassing women and harassing me. That was all I really wanted,″ Nunes said. ″This money was just lawyer’s fees. That’s things that have to be done.″
Nunes claimed during the trial that her problems began during the 1985-86 training academy with a physical training program allegedly aimed at washing women out of the force.
She said the problems worsened after graduation when Stone and Benjamin ordered investigations into her private life, including whom she dated, a party for off-duty officers at her parents’ home and an accident in her private car.
The seven-member jury awarded only $4 from the defendants to compensate her for actual injuries. That included $1 to be paid by Reynolds.
The $75,000 award against Stone and the $50,000 award against Benjamin was in punitive damages designed to deter any future conduct. The state apparently will compensate them only for nominal damages, but not for a punitive award.
The verdict was ″a remarkable day for Rhode Island,″ said one of Nunes’ attorneys, Joseph Levin, who had set out to show that the police policies were so outdated they made discrimination almost inevitable.
Judge Ernest C. Torres has set a Monday hearing on motions to dismiss the case and from Nunes’ attorneys for non-monetary damages, including a possible injunction against future discrimination and supervision of the department.
″I have no idea what the jury did when they decided this case. I still don’t. The case is still going on,″ said
Reynolds’ lawyer Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr. claimed that the case was an attempt by the Fraternal Order of Police, which sued along with Nunes and still has a case pending, to oust Stone, who has been superintendent for 27 years.
Reynolds, who left the court stonefaced, refused to comment, Benjamin said he was disappointed but he and other attorneys declined further comment.
Stone, 77, was not in court and was in a meeting and not available to comment, said an officer who answered the telephone at state police headquarters. Stone did not return a telephone message.
Cavanagh said earlier that he would attempt to pursue an appeal.
The jury found Stone liable for $55,000 for sexual discrimination and harassment, $10,000 for retaliation against Nunes when she complained, and $10,000 for invading her privacy.
Benjamin was found liable for $10,000 for discrimination and harassment and $20,000 each for retaliation and invasion of privacy.
Stone, who makes $103,600 a year in salary and a Providence police pension, testified he has about $300,000 in assets. Benjamin, 54, makes $84,000 a year, testified he has about $175,000 in assets.
Nunes, who thanked the union and her parents for their support, called it ″a matter of principal″ and said she was prepared to take the case as far as necessary in the appeals courts. ″It will be a battle to the end,″ she said.
The trooper said she would try to stay on the force, but ″if the harassment continues from my administrators, it depends on how long I can take it.″