BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A Long Island Rail Road employee can keep the $480,000 she won after a jury found that she was falsely accused of groping and shaking a co-worker’s breast, a federal judge ruled.
On July 9, 2006, LIRR employee Angela Trigg reported her co-worker Melissa Stampf came up to her car, reached through an open window and shook her left breast, court documents say.
Weeks later, transit police arrested Stampf, paraded her past her co-workers in handcuffs and locked her up for five hours on charges of sexual assault. Her arrest became work gossip and was common knowledge among LIRR employees within a week.
Even though criminal charges were dropped before trial, Stampf’s father said he had to take a second mortgage on his home to pay for a lawyer, who advised her to stay silent during her administrative hearing with the LIRR.
As a result, Stampf was suspended from work for 10 days.
At her civil trial against her accuser, Stampf said she sought therapy and picked up a drinking habit to cope with the stress of paying back her father.
“Every day you got to work and every day there are people looking at you like you did something terrible,” Stampf testified during her civil suit. “And here, the railroad said, ‘Yeah, you did something terrible, that is why you are being punished for it.'”
Stampf’s longtime partner Cathleen Bracken said that the accusation also put a strain on their relationship. Two of Stampf’s co-workers also took the stand against the woman’s accuser.
One, Matt Schrader, said that the LIRR had a “locker room” atmosphere, of which Trigg was a participant rather than a victim. He said that Trigg made “cat calls” at him, patted his butt and rubbed her breasts against him.
Another co-worker, Glenis Holland, said she saw Trigg “slap a male conductor on the behind.”
The jury found in December 2010 that Trigg had lied. It awarded Stampf $480,000 and cleared the railroad of any charges.
In a motion to toss the award, the LIRR and Trigg said the judge should have barred that testimony, under a rule prohibiting prying into the sexual histories of victims of sexual abuse.
In upholding the award, U.S. District Judge Steven Gold said the jury ruled that Trigg was not the victim, and that the testimony was relevant to the case.
“Trigg’s conduct at work was relevant to whether she would have been so offended if Stampf grabbed her breast in the manner she claimed that she would have reported Stampf’s conduct to the police,” Gold wrote.
Denying that the award was “excessive,” Gold wrote that Stampf’s emotional distress was more than “garden variety” for such cases, and Trigg must pay the full amount.