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Chrysler told to pay $4.2M to harassed pipefitter

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Chrysler told to pay $4.2M to harassed pipefitter

Automaker considering appeal

BY GREG GARDNER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

A federal court jury in Rockford, Ill., has ordered Chrysler to pay $4.2 million to a 60-year-old pipefitter at its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant who put up with years of harassment, hateful graffiti and death threats over his Jewish and Cuban-American ethnicity.

Chrysler is considering an appeal.

After a week-long trial, the jury awarded Otto May Jr. $709,000 in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.

"Kill Jew. Heil Hitler," "Otto Cuban Jew Bastard" and "(Expletive) the Cuban Jew" were among the epithets scrawled near his work station and work locker.

His attorney also successfully convinced the jury that he was denied the same opportunities to work overtime as his co-workers.

Some co-workers shredded his tires in the factory parking lot, according to the lawsuit.

"I'm glad the jury believed me," said May, who has worked at the Illinois factory for almost 22 years and still does. "That's all I really wanted -- for them to believe that it happened."

The suit was filed in 2002. Part of it was dismissed in 2007, the same year May's first attorney died. Karen Doran and Deanne Medina, both of suburban Chicago, then agreed to represent him.

The conduct that led to the lawsuit occurred during the period Daimler owned Chrysler. Doran said she was unable to document any specific acts of harassment or intimidation after December 2005.

Product-liability lawsuits filed before Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy restructuring did not carry over to the new company. But Fiat, which became a 20% owner of Chrysler through the government-backed bankruptcy, did accept liability for sexual-harassment or ethnic-discrimination cases.

"Chrysler has a zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment and discrimination of any kind," the company said in a statement. "All allegations of harassment or discrimination are thoroughly investigated and violations of our policy are punishable up to and including termination. We are disappointed in this verdict and are considering our legal options, including an appeal."

In December 2008, a federal court jury in Toledo ordered UAW Local 12 to pay Chrysler employee Mee Sanders $300,000 for failing to protect her from sexual harassment at the company's Toledo assembly plant. Last month, a different jury found that Chrysler was not liable for Sanders' alleged harassment. Her attorney, Denise Knecht of Cleveland, has asked for a new trial.

Read more: Chrysler told to pay $4.2M to harassed pipefitter | freep.com | Detroit Free Press http://www.freep.com/article/20100904/BUSINESS0103/9040318/1210/BUSINESS01/Chrysler-told-to-pay-4.2M-to-harassed-pipefitter#ixzz0ylapX253

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