Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Jury: 'Scarlet letter' firing should cost firm $500,000

After office romance, man kept, woman let go

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Federal jurors awarded $500,000 in punitive damages against an employer that fired only the woman in what her lawyer called a “scarlet letter” office romance.

        Mary Beth Carrigan also received $65,461 in back wages and $20,000 in compensatory damages from the jury in Magistrate Judge Jack Sherman Jr.'s court on Monday.

        Ms. Carrigan's lawyer, Edward S. Dorsey, argued that Campbell Sales Co. discriminated when it retained her former lover but set her up for dismissal.

        Campbell denied any wrongdoing. Tuesday, spokesman Michael Kilpatric said: “We're disappointed with the verdict, and we're considering an appeal.”

        Attorney Robert Laufman, who was not involved in the case but handles sex-discrimination complaints, called the punitive award “monumental,” saying he knew of none larger is such a local suit.

        “It sounds like jurors are getting tired of this kind of stuff,” Mr. Laufman said.

        The Greenhills resident's complaint, filed in U.S. District Court by Mr. Dorsey, said:

        • Single, 22 and “fresh out of college,” Ms. Carrigan was hired in 1992 to sell Campbell soups, Pepperidge Farm foods, and other products to restaurants, nursing homes and other customers.

        • Her immediate supervisor was Dale Burtsfield. His boss was Jack Lambert, in his mid-30s and married, who initiated “a romantic relationship” with Ms. Carrigan.

        • In December 1992, Mr. Burtsfield learned about the affair by “going through her purse” and reading Ms. Carrigan's personal correspondence.

        • After Mr. Burtsfield told co-workers, Campbell investigated the relationship and Mr. Burtsfield's snooping.

        • Campbell changed Mr. Lambert's assignment and gave Ms. Carrigan a new immediate supervisor.

        • Campbell reprimanded Mr. Burtsfield and restored him as Ms. Carrigan's boss

        • She was given impossible sales goals, more stringent job requirements than colleagues, unfair and/or inconsistent evaluations, and offered lower sales incentives.

        • Campbell fired Ms. Carrigan in June 1993, saying her work was poor when “the real reason” was her affair; Campbell did not fire Mr. Lambert as a result of the affair.

        Whether the $500,000 is paid may depend on a case where the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked whether a discrimination must be “egregious” to warrant punitive damages.


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