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Karl A. Racine
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In the Jean-Baptiste Case, Court Invalidates Amount of Jury's Damages Award against the District as Excessive

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal judge yesterday set aside as excessive a $3.5 million jury award to a former D.C. public pool lifeguard who contended that she was sexually harassed in 2006 by a supervisor and was fired in retaliation for her complaints.

The Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Royce C. Lamberth, gave the plaintiff, Carmen Jean-Baptiste, 21 days to accept a $350,000 award  -- an amount equal to one-tenth of the jury award -- or to opt for a new trial on the damage issue.

The jury previously returned the $3.5 million award last summer to Jean-Baptiste, who had worked as a lifeguard at the Takoma Aquatic Center in Northwest D.C. in 2006.

Judge Lamberth, who presided at the trial, cited prior analysis by a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia of verdicts in discrimination and retaliation cases showing that, in the 1990s, the range of jury awards in similar cases was generally between $10,000 and $150,000. “Even adjusting for inflation, this is far below the $3.5 million awarded here,” Judge Lamberth said.

Judge Lamberth said that the plaintiff “may only be compensated for injuries actually incurred and caused by the actions of the District,” and concluded that, “the highest amount the jury tolerably could have awarded, based on the damages she established, is $350,000.”

Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan praised the efforts of the Civil Division of the Office of the  Attorney General, including Deputy George C. Valentine, who heads the division, Assistant Deputy Sally Gere, Senior Assistant Attorney General Martha Mullen, and Assistant Attorneys General Alex Karpinski and Denise Baker, for their work on the case. Attorney General Nathan said, “We are grateful for the court’s reduction of this excessive award.”

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