New Jersey Verdicts

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Corrections officer alleged sex-based harassment by superiors

Amount:

$316,875

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

New Jersey

Venue:

Mercer County

Court:

Mercer County Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

mental/psychological-emotional distress

Case Type:

Employment – Sexual Harassment, Workplace Harassment, Hostile Work Environment

Case Name:

Jennifer L. Schiavone v. The State of New Jersey Department of Corrections,
No. MER-L-657-15

Date:

January 29, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Jennifer L. Schiavone (Female, 34 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Jeremy C. Rosenbaum;
The Law Offices of Jeremy C. Rosenbaum;
Jenkintown,
PA,
for
Jennifer L. Schiavone ■ Andrew Dwyer;
Dwyer Barrett LLC;
Newark,
NJ,
for
Jennifer L. Schiavone

Defendant(s):

State of New Jersey Department of Corrections

Defense Attorney(s):

James M. Duttera;
New Jersey Office of the Attorney General;
Trenton,
NJ,
for
State of New Jersey Department of Corrections ■ Deborah Ann Hay;
New Jersey Office of the Attorney General;
Trenton,
NJ,
for
State of New Jersey Department of Corrections

Facts:

In mid-2013, plaintiff Jennifer Schiavone, 34, a senior corrections officer at New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton, heard of a rumor that she was trying to curry favor with a male superior at the prison by having an affair with him. Schiavone believed that the rumor was being spread by certain supervisors and staff. The rumor, she claimed, generated hostility among some co-workers and led people to throw objects and yell at her, pursue malicious disciplinary charges and forbid her from doing certain job tasks. She asserted the supervisors and staff created a hostile work environment. Schiavone sued the New Jersey State Department of Corrections, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. She alleged a sex-based hostile work environment because the slander was based on a stereotype about women. She had brought additional claims, of retaliation for opposing alleged discrimination, and a second whistleblower claim. however, both claims were dismissed by stipulation before trial. Schiavone testified that a lieutenant, who she said led the harassment, would often come to her post during lunch, sit next to her and stare silently at her. She also said she complained numerous times to the second-in-command at the prison, the liaison for harassment and discrimination complaints, but he told her that she had no basis to complain. The liaison testified that he knew about the behavior of the lieutenant from her and possibly from the lieutenant. The defense counsel conceded that the rumor about Schiavone was false but contended that it was not sex-based and that any hostility was not severe or pervasive, conditions which must be proven to successfully litigate a sex-based hostile work environment claim. Counsel also argued that the facility had in place an effective policy to deal with harassment claims, which was enforced, and Schiavone had not properly followed the policy for making a complaint.

Injury:

Schiavone claimed she situation at her workplace caused her to suffer from insomnia, hair loss, stomach pains, attitude changes, social isolation, weight gain and frequent bouts of crying. She said she lost motivation and grew to hate a job that she had once loved. Schiavone did not present evidence of medical treatment, but her sister testified that Schiavone had withdrawn emotionally, gained weight and became quick-tempered. Schiavone sought punitive damages and damages for emotional distress. Judge R. Brian McLaughlin instructed the jury to not consider emotional-distress damages for the period after early January 2015, when Schiavone took a leave from her job, for unrelated reasons. When she returned a year later, her alleged harassers were no longer at her workplace. The defense counsel asserted that Schiavone had failed to prove that she had suffered emotional distress.

Result:

The jury found that the New Jersey State Department of Corrections was liable for sex-based harassment of Schiavone. She was awarded $100,000 for emotional distress and $216,875 in punitive damages. The court awarded Schiavone $564,907 in attorney fees and $20,107.35 in court costs.

Jennifer L. Schiavone: $216,875 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $100,000 Personal Injury: emotional distress

Actual Award:

$901,889.35

Trial Information:

Judge:

R. Brian McLaughlin

Trial Length:

11
 days

Jury Vote:

7-1 (liability for law violations, liability on punitive damages and emotional distress damages); 8-0 (amount of punitive damages)

Post Trial:

The court awarded Schiavone $564,907 in attorney fees and $20,107.35 in court costs.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.