Manchester Journal Inquirer

Former EB Worker Gets $750,000

By Alex Wood

May 15, 2000

A federal jury on Friday awarded a Glastonbury woman $750,000 in a sexual-harassment lawsuit against Electric Boat, ruling the company failed to take "prompt, remedial action" against the conduct by her male co-workers on a nuclear project in Windsor.

But Senior Judge Gerard L. Goettel, who presided over Judith Dobrich's lawsuit against EB in U.S. District Court in Waterbury, appears almost certain to reduce the award to $300,000 because of a cap in federal law.

Dobrich, 56, alleged a series of harassing acts by her male co-workers, which included lewd drawings and displays in the workplace, use of bad language and insulting remarks, and three instances of unwanted touching by one co-worker.

She argued that the harassment included an incident in which her wrist was injured when another worker kicked a chair at her. In a separate incident, she said, her chair was slashed while she was away from the job in what she believed was an attempt to terrorize her.

EB, a division of General Dynamics Corp., argued that its managers responded appropriately when Dobrich complained about misconduct by co-workers.

The company's lawyer and its witnesses stressed, for example, that the worker involved in the touching incidents was given a final written warning, meaning that one more incident could have led to his firing.

And they contended that Dobrich didn't report a number of the incidents.

They stressed, for example, that her original written report on the wrist injury said she had tried to prevent a chair from falling on her.

But the jury of seven men and two women felt the company's response was too little, too late.

"They could have stopped it before it went any further, basically," said one of about a half-dozen male jurors who gathered in the sun outside the courthouse after the 12:30 p.m. verdict.

Another juror said the company should have made a strong response to the first incident, either by circulating a memo or calling a meeting of workers.

Dobrich was the sole woman in a union trade job on the Windsor site, where EB was decommissioning a prototype nuclear reactor dating from the 1950s for the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. "They didn't do anything about it until they were already in trouble," the juror said.

Dobrich filed at least two complaints with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities while working at EB from June 1994 to January 1996.

The jury awarded Dobrich $650,000 in compensatory damages, as well as $100,000 in punitive damages.

Dobrich was tearful after court but they weren't tears of joy.

Immediately after the jury was excused, the lawyers and the judge discussed the likely reduction in the award to adhere to the $300,000 cap in the law.

Dobrich made clear she was unhappy about that. "All I wanted was what the jury said for me to get," she said. "And now it's not going to happen that way ... . I feel this is taking away my trial by jury."

Dobrich also was unhappy that she wasn't allowed to present all her evidence to the jury.

She argues that the company retaliated against her for calling the FBI and Windsor police about the chair-slashing incident.

Just a few minutes after she made the complaint to police from a guard shack at the Windsor site, she was written up for being away from her work location. And she was written up again a half-hour later when she returned to the guard shack in response to a page, she says.

But she couldn't present evidence about those incidents to the jury because Goettel threw out her retaliation claims before trial on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Dobrich's lawyer, Robert B. Muchinsky of Hartford, was more upbeat about the outcome than she.

"That's a very nice win, the way the juries have been lately," he said.

As an example of how bad the situation was, Muchinsky cited the company's need to write a memo instructing male employees not to use the bathroom when Dobrich was cleaning it.

Dobrich was a member of the Laborers union, and most of the employees involved in the decommissioning and demolition of the old nuclear plant were members of construction trade unions.

She said she hopes the verdict will encourage others to stand up against workplace harassment.

"I'm a 56-year-old woman," she said. "Can't somebody else stand up with me? When these things happen, we need to stand."

EB's lawyer, Neal McNamara of Providence, said in court that he plans to file a motion to overturn the verdict. If that fails, the company can appeal.

As Dobrich left the courthouse, she waved to the group of jurors standing outside and thanked them briefly. Justice was served," one of the men replied.*L


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