By ED WHITE, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) – A federal appeals court has affirmed a $300,000 award for a woman who claimed she was trapped in a portable restroom, among other indignities, as part of repeated sexual harassment by fellow linemen at Consumers Energy.
The court also upheld nearly $700,000 in fees for Theresa Waldo’s lawyers on Friday, although a judge dissented on that point, noting they were getting more than twice as much as their client.
“One can be forgiven for thinking that Waldo’s two attorneys, not Waldo, were the true winners,” wrote Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of three judges on the appeal. “This is good work if you can get it.”
Waldo said she was harassed in the Jackson-based utility’s transmission lines department. There was evidence that she was required to climb transmission towers on a cold, windy day without proper safety equipment. She also was told to clean tobacco spit and “pee like a man.” The men brought sexually explicit material to the workplace, according to Waldo.
“On another day, Waldo’s male co-workers locked her in a porta-potty. She escaped only after using a pocket knife to cut through the tape her co-workers had used to seal the door,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote, summing up the testimony.
Waldo sued after being removed from the apprentice program in 2005.
A jury in Grand Rapids federal court ruled in favor of Consumers Energy in 2009. But U.S. District Judge Janet Neff ordered a second trial on the claim of a hostile workplace, saying the earlier verdict was outweighed by the evidence.
A second jury in 2010 awarded $7.9 million, but the amount was reduced to $300,000 by the judge, who cited a cap in law and other factors. The appeals court said Neff didn’t abuse her authority in ordering a second trial.
“Based on the witness testimony, no reasonable jury could have found that Consumers was not aware of the harassment. … This failure to respond to known complaints demonstrated that Consumers tolerated or condoned the harassing behavior, or, at the very least, that the company failed to take appropriate remedial action,” the court said.
Over the utility’s objections, the court let stand legal fees and costs that were awarded to Waldo’s attorneys by the trial judge. Consumers Energy must pay them.
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