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CURRY v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

June 2, 1998

CYNTHIA D. CURRY, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 SPORKIN, District Judge.

 This matter comes before the Court on (1) Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, for a new trial or remittitur; and (2) Plaintiff's motion for attorneys fees and costs.

 When considering Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law or new tiral, the Court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Morgan v. District of Columbia, 824 F.2d 1049, 1056 (D.C. Cir. 1987). In this case, the facts that the jury could have found are as follows:

 Plaintiff Cynthia Curry was employed by the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") in the Security Squad, Intelligence Unit. Detective Freeman, also an employee of the MPD, was a 26-year veteran of the Domestic Security Squad in the Intelligence Unit. In October, 1992, Plaintiff first met Detective Freeman when she began to work in the Intelligence Unit of the MPD. Between October 1992 and April 1993, Plaintiff and Detective Freeman engaged in a six month romantic relationship that included dating and consensual sexual intercourse. After their relationship ended around April, 1993, Detective Freeman began to harass Plaintiff by telling her sexual jokes, and suggesting that Plaintiff allow him to "slip her the lizard" while grabbing his crotch. (Detective Freeman had referred to his penis as his "lizard").

 In September 1994, Plaintiff told Detective Freeman's supervisor, Sergeant Majors, that Detective Freeman had been sexually harassing her. Sergeant Majors referred Plaintiff to the MPD Labor Relations Office. On September 30, 1994, Plaintiff filed a complaint at the MPD's EEO office and an investigation of Plaintiff's complaints was undertaken.

 Sergeant Majors asked Detective Freeman about Plaintiff's allegations, and Detective Freeman denied them. Consistent with MPD policy, Sergeant Majors advised Detective Freeman that sexual harassment would not be tolerated. After Sergeant Majors spoke to Detective Freeman, there was no more verbal contact between Plaintiff and Detective Freeman. However, Plaintiff stated that Detective Freeman would glare at her in a harassing manner, making her feel extremely uncomfortable. During this time, Lieutenant Peacock of the MPD Labor Relations Office conducted an investigation into Plaintiff's complaint and concluded that there was "probable cause" that would justify further processing of Plaintiff's complaint. Additionally, the D.C. Human Rights Office conducted an investigation and also found "probable cause" that Detective Freeman sexually harassed Plaintiff. However, under the MPD labor contract, discipline cannot be taken against an officer more than 45 days after the department becomes aware of improper conduct. Because Lieutenant Peacock's investigation took more than 45 days to complete, no disciplinary action was taken against Detective Freeman. He was left in the Intelligence Unit working in close proximity to the Plaintiff. In June 1996, Plaintiff left the Intelligence Unit.

 On May 16, 1997, Plaintiff filed this action in District Court. The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff for $ 100,000.

 I. Judgment as a Matter of Law

 Defendant claims that the jury's verdict should be set aside because the District of Columbia cannot be held liable for Detective Freeman's conduct before it had notice. Defendant claims that it did not have notice because Plaintiff failed to report Detective Freeman's remarks to her supervisor or the MPD Labor Relations Office before August 1994. Defendant claims that after it had notice, it acted appropriately and advised Detective Freeman to stop the harassing conduct. After Detective Freeman was advised, he stopped making harassing jokes and remarks, but began to give Plaintiff long glares. Defendant claims that Freeman's glares did not rise to a level which affected Plaintiff's terms or conditions of employment.

 In order to overturn a jury's verdict, the court must find that "the evidence, together with all inferences that can reasonably be drawn therefrom is so one-sided that reasonable men could not disagree on the verdict." Carter v. Duncan-Huggins, Ltd., 234 U.S. App. D.C. 126, 727 F.2d 1225, 1227 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The verdict in this case was the result of careful consideration by an eight member jury that paid close attention to the testimony during trial. There was sufficient evidence introduced at trial that would support a finding of continued harassment after the time Defendant claims it had notice. For example, at trial, Plaintiff demonstrated the way that Detective Freeman would glare at her. According to her demonstration, Detective Freeman would walk by her, and slowly and deliberately look at her up and down. A reasonable jury could conclude that these glares, combined with the prior history of Detective Freeman's actions toward Plaintiff, could constitute continuing harassment.

 Additionally, the jury could have concluded that the Defendant's corrective action was inadequate. The Defendant took no steps to separate the parties except to afford the Plaintiff the opportunity to leave the Intelligence Unit. In cases such as this, a jury could find that the Defendant should have required Detective Freeman, the harassing party, to move.

 The Defendant argued that the 45-day limitation under the MPD labor contract prevented it from taking any additional action against Detective Freeman. The contract, however, was not binding upon the jury, for it was overridden by federal civil rights law. Here, the jury could have found a 45-day limitation was not an adequate excuse for ...


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