Louisiana Construction Company Loses Harassment Case

April 1, 2011

A federal jury has awarded $451,000 in damages to a post-Katrina bridge repair worker who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Boh Bros. Construction Co. in 2009.

Kerry S. Woods, a 33-year-old ironworker represented in the suit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said his site superintendent flashed him and routinely taunted him about seeming feminine, among other things.

“I knew it wasn’t right that the company should be able to treat people this way,” Woods said in a written statement issued Tuesday, one day after the district court in New Orleans determined the compensation amount. “No one should have to put up with that kind of abuse day after day.”

Woods, the suit said, suffered “extreme emotional stress” and “feared … the loss of his job.” He filed an internal harassment and hostile work environment complaint with the company.

After receiving his complaint, the company retaliated, alleged Woods, who is from McLain, Miss. Boh Bros. transferred him to its Chalmette facility, where he earned less and had a longer commute. They laid him off a short time later, in early 2007.

Woods contacted lawyers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who sued Boh Bros. after the sides failed to reach a voluntary settlement.

Court filings by Boh Bros. argued that the company “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly” any alleged harassment at its work sites, but Woods failed to take advantage of the measures. Additionally, the company said it could justify its decision to lay Woods off “by appropriate business considerations.”

At the end of a three-day trial in front of U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle last week, jurors on Thursday found that Woods was harassed but not retaliated against. A document filed in court Monday ordered that Boh Bros. pay $1,000 in damages for back pay and benefits; $200,000 for emotional pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life; and $250,000 for punitive damages.

Ann Barks, a Boh Bros. spokeswoman, said the company respectfully but strongly disagreed with the case’s outcome. Boh Bros. plans to appeal the verdict and is “confident of a reversal,” she said.

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