Damges Award Restored in Chrysler Hate Case

     CHICAGO (CN) – Chrysler owes $4.2 million to an employee who endured more than 70 incidents of “repulsive” racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic harassment, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Cuban-born Otto May Jr. converted to Judaism to marry his first wife, and still identifies as a Messianic Jew.
     While working as a Chrysler pipefitter from 2006 to 2009, May said the Belvedere Assembly Plant was regularly defaced with graffiti messages of “Otto Cuban Jew fag die,” “Otto Cuban good Jew is a dead Jew,” “death to the Cuban Jew,” “fuck Otto Cuban Jew fag,” “get the Cuban Jew,” and “fuck Otto Cuban Jew nigger lover.”
     Death threats also appeared in May’s toolbox. One decorated with a swastika said: “Otto Cuban Jew mutherfucker bastard get our message your family is not safe we will get you good Jew is a dead Jew say hi to your whore wife death to the jews heil hitler.”
     The antagonists also slashed May’s car tires, poured sugar into his gas tank, wrapped a dead bird with toilet paper to look like a Ku Klux Klansman and left it in his work station.
     In response to May’s complaints, Chrysler held one meeting with skilled laborers at the plant, but it did not hold individual interviews and did not honor May’s repeated requests for surveillance cameras around his workstation.
     Though Chrysler implied that May fabricated the harassment himself, a jury ordered the automaker to pay him $709,000 in compensatory damages, plus $3.5 million in punitive damages for the hostile work environment.
     A federal judge in Rockford, Ill., later reduced compensatory damages to $300,000 and vacated the punitive damages award.
     But the 7th Circuit reinstated the multimillion verdict last week after finding that Chrysler’s “response was shockingly thin as measured against the gravity of May’s harassment.”
     “During the first year of written threats and harassment, what had Chrysler done? They held a meeting,” Judge John Tinder wrote for a three-judge panel. “They interviewed May. … [The jury] heard that Chrysler documented the incidents and used [entrance] records to narrow the field of potential suspects. In the face of repeated vicious death threats, a jury could conclude that Chrysler’s document-and-narrow approach was not good enough.”
     In addition, “Chrysler did not install a single surveillance camera,” Tinder added. “May asked Chrysler to install cameras and the police made the same suggestion. Chrysler’s response was consistent: The plant is too massive, four million square feet, the size of a terminal at O’Hare Airport. It is just not possible to cover it with cameras. What’s more, the union would (probably) not allow it. Installing cameras with non-union labor would violate the contract with the union.”(Italics and parentheses in original.)
     Though he acknowledged that the court does not sit as a “super-personnel department,” Tinder said: “We did not conjure the ideas of interviewing the employees May considered suspects (or those Chrysler did) or of installing cameras; evidence about why Chrysler did not do those things was presented at trial. The jury had the right to consider that evidence – evidence of exactly what options Chrysler had and entertained – in deciding whether Chrysler took actions reasonably calculated to end the harassment. The evidence easily supports the jury’s decision that Chrysler did not.”
     “The bottom line in this case is simple, even if a little difficult to digest,” the 29-page decision states. “May was subjected to repulsive harassment for more than three years. Chrysler suspected that May did it all himself. The jury, however, disagreed; Chrysler, it concluded, had not taken reasonable measures to stop the harassment. That was liability. With liability fixed, May’s case for punitive damages is straightforward and persuasive.”

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