Note: On July 7, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Reagan granted Aarons’ motion to reduce the compensatory damages award for Alford’s Title VII sexual harassment claim pursuant to the statutory cap from $4 million to $300,000.00 and the Court vacated the $50 million punitive damages award. Title VII authorizes the award of both compensatory and punitive damages but provides a cap on the total amount of damages recoverable based on employer size. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a. Reagan states in his opinion: “The Court notes that this remittitur results solely from the statutory cap and is not an expression of the Court’s opinion or the reasonableness of the jury verdict as to Count XII.”
East St. Louis, IL –A federal jury has awarded $95 million to a young woman who alleged she was the victim of a campaign of sexual harassment and assault by a supervisor at one of 1,800 stores operated by the rent-to-own company, The Aaron’s Inc.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported on June 10, 2011 that the jury in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Illinois awarded the woman, Ashley Alford, $95 million in compensation, including $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. A cap on damages in federal sexual harassment cases will reduce the award to about $41.6 million. A spokesperson for Aaron’s said the award does not accurately reflect the evidence in the case and Aaron’s plans to appeal.
The Aaron chain’s entire profit in 2010 was $118 million.
Alford’s attorney, David S. Ratner, said the award could be an all-time record for an individual plaintiff in sexual harassment case.
Alford, who is in her mid-20s, began work as a customer service representative at the store in 2005. She said her supervisor, the store’s then-general manager, Richard Moore, engaged in a year-long escalating campaign of sexual harassment, beginning with crude sexual jokes and ending with assault.
In the fall of 2006, Alford alleged, Moore sneaked up behind her as she was sitting on the floor of the stockroom and hit her on the head with his penis. In another incident, Moore allegedly threw Alford to the ground, lifted her shirt and masturbated over her as he held her down. Moore is awaiting trial on a criminal charge related to the accusations in St. Clair County Circuit Court.
It appears that Aaron’s was complacent. Alford called a company harassment hotline in May 2006, but an investigator never contacted her. At some point after the call, the suit claims, she was approached by Moore’s supervisor, who confronted her in front of Moore about his alleged harassment and warned Moore to “watch his back” because of the complaint.
In their verdict, jurors found that Moore had assaulted and battered Alford, and found Aaron’s liable for “negligent supervision,” ‘sexual harassment” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
In a press release, Chad Strickland, Vice President of Associate Resources for Aaron’s, Inc., said Moore’s alleged acts “are not only completely inconsistent with everything our Company believes in and stands for, but are also far outside the scope of his employment and were never condoned by the Company.”
According to its web site, “Over 55 million households across North America know and trust the Aaron’s name. Aaron’s, Inc. New York Stock Exchange ticker symbols are AAN and AANA.”
Aaron’s stock was down .04 percent on June 13, 2011.