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Judge lowers $1.8 million award to former probation employee

By REBECCA BOONEMay 21, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has reduced a $1.8 million award given to a former Idaho Department of Correction employee who sued over a hostile work environment because it exceeds the maximum amount allowed under federal law.

U.S. District Judge David Nye made the ruling Tuesday, dropping the award amount granted to former probation and parole employee Cynthia Fuller to $300,000.

Fuller sued the state in 2013, saying Idaho Department of Correction administrators created a hostile work environment and caused her emotional distress after she reported that a co-worker with whom she had recently tried to end a relationship had raped her three times over a two-week period.

Fuller reported the rapes to law enforcement and obtained a restraining order against the co-worker in addition to reporting the assaults to prison officials. Fuller said in the lawsuit department officials offered words of support to her attacker and gave him paid administrative leave — the leave because he was already under investigation for the sexual assault of another woman. She said she was never given that support, however, neither was she offered paid leave.

In her lawsuit, Fuller said she was treated differently because of her gender, and a jury agreed. They awarded her $1.8 million in emotional distress damages after a nine-day trial in March.

Idaho Department of Correction officials asked a judge a few days later to reduce the amount of the award, contending that it was excessive and that federal law caps the amount of emotional distress damages to no more than $300,000.

Fuller’s attorney said the amount awarded for emotional damages was reasonable, but acknowledged the federal cap.

The lawsuit was filed under the 1991 Civil Rights Act, which added some amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The amendments give employees the option to seek a trial by jury in discrimination cases and also allow them to collect emotional distress damages.

Those damages were capped at amounts ranging from $50,000 to $300,000, however, depending on the size of the employer. At the time, the caps were seen as a compromise made so the bill would pass, but the maximum limit has never been increased despite occasional attempts in Congress.

Nye has yet to rule on Fuller’s request for reimbursement of more than $1 million in attorney fees and other court-related costs.

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