The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to consider the appeal of Shaw Coastal Inc., of Baton Rouge, for reversal of a $500,000 sexual harassment judgment awarded to former employee John Cherry by a jury in 2010.
“John is ecstatic,” said Jill L. Craft, Cherry’s attorney. “This is a huge victory. It is a classic case of David versus Goliath. Today, David won.”
Gentry Brann, director of communications and marketing for The Shaw Group, corporate parent of Shaw Coastal, said: “Shaw is firmly committed to a work environment that is free from discrimination and harassment as well as any form of retaliation. We will continue to review the decision and determine (our) next steps.”
Shaw Coastal attorneys Leslie W. Ehret and Renee Culotta have a pending motion for a new trial before U.S. District Judge James J. Brady, who presided at the jury trial in 2010.
Ehret and Culotta are asking Brady to either grant a new trial or reduce the $500,000 jury award to $1,800.
In 2010, Brady reduced a $10,000 judgment against Cherry’s supervisor, Michael Reasoner, to $1,800 and erased the $500,000 award against Shaw Coastal.
“There was no evidence that Reasoner explicitly asked Cherry to engage in sexual relations,” Brady wrote two years ago. “There was absolutely no evidence of Reasoner making sexual advances toward others,” the judge added. Brady also wrote: “Cherry provided no evidence that he believed Reasoner was propositioning him.”
Throughout the dispute, both Cherry and Reasoner maintained that they are heterosexual.
Cherry asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the $500,000 award against Shaw Coastal, and a three-judge appellate panel ruled in Cherry’s favor in March.
Circuit Judges W. Eugene Davis, of Lafayette, Carl E. Stewart, of Shreveport, and Patrick E. Higginbotham, of Austin, Texas, concluded that the jury’s judgment against Shaw Coastal was justified.
Trial evidence supported the jury’s decision that “Cherry was sexually harassed and that his employer failed to promptly respond to the harassment,” the appellate panel ruled.
The circuit judges noted that Reasoner sent Cherry text messages, including: “I want (male genitalia)” and “ur 2 sexy. U drive me insane.”
Only after Cherry resigned in September 2007 was he informed that Reasoner had been fired, the 5th Circuit panel noted.
“Cherry presented more than sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that Reasoner’s harassment was sexual in nature,” the circuit judges ruled.
“We conclude that the evidence supports the jury’s finding that Shaw Coastal did not take prompt remedial action,” the judges said as they reversed Brady’s ruling in favor of the firm.
In July, Brady complied with the 5th Circuit directive and reinstated the $500,000 jury award in favor of Cherry and against Shaw Coastal.
While Shaw Coastal now wants Brady to hold a new trial, Craft, Cherry’s attorney, has filed a motion to dismiss the company’s request.
Craft said Monday that Shaw Coastal missed a deadline for seeking a new trial.
“They (Shaw Coastal) have exhausted all their appeals,” Craft added. “The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and they spoke in favor of the trial verdict and in favor Mr. Cherry’s judgment.”
Gentry, the Shaw spokeswoman, said: “We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not grant review of the portion of the 5th Circuit’s opinion that there was sufficient evidence to support a claim of sexual harassment. Shaw believes that the opinion is not consistent with this area of law.”