Jury Awards Woman $7.1 Million In Law Firm Harassment Trial
Sep. 02, 1994
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The world's largest law firm was ordered to pay what may be the nation's largest damage award for sexual harassment - $7.1 million to a former secretary who said an attorney lunged at her breasts.
A Superior Court jury granted the punitive damage award Thursday to Rena Weeks. She said a partner at Baker & McKenzie dumped candies in a breast pocket of her blouse, groped her breast, pulled her arms from behind and said, '' 'Let's see which one is bigger.' ''
Weeks had sought $3.7 million from the firm. Her lawyer, Philip Kay, said he believed the damages were the most ever awarded for sexual harassment.
The firm said it would appeal and called the award ''grossly disproportionate'' to $50,000 Greenstein and the firm were ordered to pay Weeks for emotional distress. She had sought $600,000.
California law requires punitive damages to bear a reasonable relationship to the harm suffered and to the amount needed to punish a serious wrongdoer.
Weeks, 40, now a preschool teacher, was tearful after the verdict.
''I hope it never happens again but if it does, I'd do the same thing, because I've got my rights, my civil rights, like everybody does,'' she told reporters.
Weeks worked for the 1,700-lawyer firm based in Palo Alto for about three months in 1991 and for partner Martin Greenstein for about a month. She said he lunged at her breasts in the office and made sexually suggestive comments at a luncheon.
Weeks sued. Greenstein denied the claims.
Weeks said she was transferred to another lawyer after telling an office manager about the incidents. She quit two months later.
During the six-week trial, more than a half dozen other women testified that Greenstein had grabbed them, propositioned them or made lewd remarks in a series of incidents dating back to 1988.
In the first phase, the jurors found that Greenstein had sexually harassed Weeks, that Baker & McKenzie failed to take sufficient action to prevent it and showed a conscious disregard for Weeks' rights.
In a second phase that ended Thursday, the same jury awarded Weeks $6.9 million from the firm and $225,000 from Greenstein. The six-man, six-woman jury voted 10-2 for the damage award.
Greenstein, 49, resigned from Baker & McKenzie in October 1993 at the firm's urging after working there for 22 years.