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County manager fired after sex harassment complaint

Amount:

$750,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Texas

Venue:

El Paso County

Court:

El Paso County District Court, 205th

Injury Type(s):

mental/psychological-emotional distress

Case Type:

Employment - Retaliation, Sexual Harassment, Workplace Harassment, Wrongful Termination, Gender Discrimination

Case Name:

Monica Miranda v. El Paso County, No. 2011-2224

Date:

January 20, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Monica Miranda (Female, 40s)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Brett Duke; The Law Offices of Brett Duke, P.C.; El Paso, TX, for Monica Miranda ■ Daniela Labinoti; Daniela Labinoti Law Firm; El Paso, TX, for Monica Miranda

Defendant(s):

El Paso County

Defense Attorney(s):

Ruben G. Duarte; El Paso County Attorney's Office; El Paso, TX, for El Paso County ■ Selina Saenz; El Paso County Attorney's Office; El Paso, TX, for El Paso County

Facts:

On May 17, 2010, plaintiff Monica Miranda, 40s, an operations manager for El Paso County, was terminated. Miranda, who had begun working for the county in 2002, claimed that her termination was due to retaliation and gender discrimination. According to Miranda, she and other female employees in fall 2008 were subjected to multiple instances of sexual harassment by her then-supervisor, a chief investigator. She alleged that he said, "You must have cottage cheese in your vagina because no one has had sex with you for so long." After Miranda and her co-workers complained, the supervisor was suspended for three days. Miranda, however, questioned the severity of the supposed discipline, since individuals in the department were being "hush-hush" about it. On May 11, the then-tax assessor/collector announced during a staff meeting that the supervisor would be promoted to enforcement director on a temporary basis. When Miranda told the tax assessor/collector that he couldn't promote an alleged sexual harasser, he allegedly responded, "No, you're wrong, and I run the show." Miranda then sent an email sharing her intention to file a grievance against the tax assessor/collector, and she was allegedly told that she could not do so. On May 13, she contacted the human resources department inquiring about a grievance form. Four days later she was terminated. Miranda sued the county, alleging that her termination was based on gender discrimination and retaliation. The first trial resulted in a hung jury in December 2015. Miranda's counsel cited the testimony of the tax assessor/collector from the first trial, in which he stated that as a supervisor, he was able to hire whomever he wanted, and if that included an individual accused of sexual harassment, then "so be it." Miranda's counsel argued that she had consistently received performance evaluations that exceeded expectations, as well as promotions and raises since she had begun working for the county. The county maintained that Miranda's termination was solely due to insubordination and not due to non-discriminatory, retaliatory reasons. Defense counsel noted that, following the alleged harassment by her supervisor in 2008, Miranda was written up for openly questioning the supervisor's credentials and qualifications for the job, which was disrespectful and a form of insubordination. Around that time, Miranda, in describing the supervisor's alleged harassment in an email, used an explanation point, which was another instance of insubordination. The county claimed that Miranda openly defying the tax assessor/collector's announcement of her supervisor's promotion was the final act of insubordination that necessitated her termination.

Injury:

Miranda testified about how the termination was a blow to her self-worth and dignity. She said that she had chosen a career over starting a family, since she wanted to wait in order to become established. It had always been her intention to work in government services and her termination derailed her career, as she did not find work until two years later, Miranda said. She sought damages for past and future pain and suffering. The court determined that Miranda will receive $203,000 in back pay. Reinstatement, attorney fees and other court costs are to be determined by the court.

Result:

The jury found that the county discriminated against Miranda based on her gender and that it retaliated against her. It awarded $750,000 that is subject to be reduced to $300,000 under statutory law.

Monica Miranda: $500,000 Personal Injury: past emotional distress; $250,000 Personal Injury: future emotional distress

Trial Information:

Judge:

Francisco X. Dominguez

Trial Length:

3  days

Trial Deliberations:

7  hours

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.