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
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
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
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