No Millions for Pipefitter in Chrysler Hate Case

     CHICAGO (CN) – Chrysler owes just $300,000 to an employee who endured over 70 incidents o racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic harassment, even though a jury awarded him $4.2 million, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Cuban-born Otto May Jr. converted to Judaism at age 17 to marry his first wife, and still identifies as a Messianic Jew.
     While working as a pipefitter at a Belvedere, Ill., assembly plant from 2006 to 2009, May said he was the target of regular graffiti messages such as: “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, including one, decorated with a swastika, which 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.
     Chrysler held a meeting with about 60 skilled laborers at the plant, but did not individually interview employees or honor repeated requests for surveillance cameras around May’s workstation. May was upset that the meeting involved only skilled laborers, rather than all 1,000 plant employees.
     The automaker developed a protocol for documenting May’s harassment and retained a forensic document examiner who was unable to identify the harasser based on the handwritten notes.
     Chrysler’s defense implied that May had fabricated the alleged incidents himself.
     The jury, finding that Chrysler had recklessly disregarded May’s federally protected rights, awarded May $709,000 in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.
     U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala reduced the award to $300,000, however, striking punitive damages completely.
     In August 2012, a divided three-judge panel for the 7th Circuit reinstated the multimillion dollar award. Judges Michael Kanne and John Tinder formed the majority, calling Chrysler’s response “shockingly thin as measured against the gravity of May’s harassment.”
     Judge William Bauer dissented in part from the decision. In a two-sentence opinion, Bauer stated that he would “affirm the district court’s judgment on both liability and punitive damages for the reasons stated in the district court’s excellent opinion.”
     The panel agreed to rehear the case and, on Tuesday, reinstated Judge Kapala’s $300,000 remittitur.
     They did not disturb the ruling that holds Chrysler liable for the hostile work environment and compels it pay compensatory damages.
     “Especially in light of the gravity of the harassment, the jury was presented with more than enough evidence to conclude that Chrysler had not done enough,” the 27-page unsigned opinion states.
     The panel reversed its earlier contention that Chrysler’s failure to eliminate the hostile work environment was “malicious or reckless.”
     Chrysler had a written anti-harassment policy, trained its employees about harassment, and encouraged them to come forward with any information about May, according to the ruling.
     In addition, “Chrysler involved ‘about 20 people’ ranging from hourly employees to corporate office personnel in its efforts to stop and prevent the harassment of May,” the judges wrote.
     The opinion concludes: “To be sure, Chrysler could have done more to stop the harassment. But given the situation that it faced – an anonymous harasser, an assembly plant covering four million square feet, and a three-shift-a-day operation, Chrysler’s response was enough as a matter of law to avoid punitive damages liability.”

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