A jury in the Northern District of Georgia recently entered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in a sexual harassment case, yet awarded her no damages.
In Furcron v. Mail Centers Plus, LLC, a former mailroom clerk, Myra Furcron, sued her former employer, Mail Centers Plus, LLC, for sexual harassment as a result of an alleged hostile work environment created by an autistic coworker.
Mail Centers Plus provides onsite mailroom and copying services for various mid-sized and large corporations. After receiving multiple complaints about an autistic employee (including sexually inappropriate and threatening conduct), the company transferred him to the facility where Furcron happened to be working.
Shortly after the transfer, Furcron complained to her supervisor that her autistic coworker frequently invaded her personal space, brushed up against her, and stared at her with an erection. Furcron’s supervisor responded that Furcron’s coworker meant no harm and that his conduct should be tolerated because of his disability. Furcron subsequently took a picture of her coworker’s erection in an effort to make management take her complaints more seriously. The managers apparently laughed at the picture and said that Furcron’s coworker always looked like that.
The company terminated Furcron a few days after she complained to management. Furcron claimed retaliation. The company claimed that she was terminated for violating company policy by taking a sexually suggestive photograph of a coworker without his permission and showing it to other employees, despite the company’s instructions that she keep the photograph and the employment matter confidential.
The trial court initially entered summary judgment in favor of Mail Centers on Furcron’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims, and Furcron appealed. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Mail Centers on the retaliation claim, but it found that there was a question of fact with regard to whether the alleged harassment was severe and pervasive enough to support her sexual harassment claim. The sexual harassment claim was remanded and proceeded to trial.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury entered a verdict in favor of Furcron on her sexual harassment claim. It found that: (1) Furcron had been harassed because of her gender; (2) the harassment created a hostile work environment for Furcron; (3) Furcron’s supervisor knew or should have known of the hostile work environment; (4) the supervisor did not take prompt remedial action to correct it; and (5) Furcron suffered damages as a result of the hostile work environment. Despite finding that she suffered damages as a result of a hostile work environment, the jury found Furcron should not be awarded any damages to compensate for emotional pain and mental suffering caused by the hostile work environment. In short, Furcron won her case, but took home nothing.
Furcron illustrates the uncertainty at trial, particularly with regard to the jury’s views toward key witnesses. While she was able to successfully establish the elements of her sexual harassment claim, the jury’s lack of sympathy for Furcron (who flaunted inappropriate pictures of her autistic coworker), and possible empathy toward her autistic coworker, arguably played a large part in its decision.