In a high profile lawsuit, a young female lawyer sued her former employer, Faruqi and Faruqi, a large national law firm, for sex harassment. Alexandra Marchuk obviously hoped for more, but the jury only awarded her $140,000. The award included $90,000 in compensatory damages (i.e, emotional suffering), and $50,000 in punitive damages. See Above the Law post. As one juror explains, some women did not accept Ms. Marchuk’s story. Some jurors did not believe it was as bad as she claimed. A key issue in a sexual harassment case is whether the sexual attention was unwelcome. The jurors apparently felt it was not unwelcome, or if the advances were unwelcome, they were not “severe,” as the law requires. (Note that some lawyers disagree that the caselaw requires “severe and pervasive.” Some of us believe the law requires the harassment to be severe or pervasive). Regarding a sexual encounter, the jurors essentially did not accept her story or his story completely about the incident.
It turns out that Ms. Marchuk turned down an offer of judgment of $425,001. See Above the Law post. An offer of judgment is essentially a bet by the defendant. The defendant offers $425,001. If the plaintiff turns it down, then the plaintiff must secure an award greater than $425,001 or she become liable for the defendant’s attorney’s fees and costs of court occurring after the date of the offer. Plus, as in this case, she walked away from a certain amount, $425,001 in return for $140,000 from the jury. Oops.
Of course, Ms. Marchuk’s lawyers will submit a large request for attorney’s fees. But, that is not likely to benefit her. This is why sexual harassment cases are tough.