COLUMBIA – A jury late Thursday found that a former Voorhees College professor was sexually harassed by the college’s president Lee E. Monroe and that Voorhees College “acted with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights” of the former professor.
Dr. Moreen B. Joseph brought the civil lawsuit against Monroe and Voorhees College, alleging that Monroe sexually harassed her and the college did nothing about it.
The jury awarded Joseph punitive damages of $400,000 and compensatory damages of $100,000.
The trial before U.S. District Judge R. Bryan Harwell Monday at the Matthews J. Perry Jr. Courthouse in Columbia and the jury came back with the verdict last Thursday afternoon.
According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, District of South Carolina, Orangeburg Division on July 13, 2004, the Louthian Law Firm of Columbia, representing Joseph, alleged that she was subjected to “lewd, gross and suggestive language of a sexual nature and unwanted touching” by Monroe for a period of several months in 2002 and 2003, creating a “hostile work environment.”
Monroe and Voorhees College, represented by Evans Taylor Barnette of McCutchen Blanton Rhodes and Johnson, denied all of Joseph’s allegations.
Joseph claimed that Monroe “repeatedly made unwelcome sexual advances and implied that if she would agree to his sexual advances, she would benefit personally and financially.”
The complaint went on to state that Monroe suggested to Joseph that if she “received his sexual advances favorably, that she would continue to prosper as an employee of the college and implied that if she did not go along with his advances that she would regret that decision.”
Joseph claimed that she “consistently and adamantly rejected … Monroe’s advances and, as a result, she was retaliated against, culminating in the loss of her position and more than $70,000 per year in income.”
The complaint stated that Monroe and the college “discriminated against and harassed (Joseph), retaliated against her and caused her to suffer damages because of her sex (gender), all in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended.”
As a result of Monroe’s conduct, Joseph claimed that she “suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional distress, psychological injury, mental suffering and humiliation.”
The complaint also alleged that Monroe “unlawfully placed his hands on the body of (Joseph) in a sexually suggestive and offensive manner, thereby inflicting a battery upon her person.”
However, the jury Thursday found that Joseph had not proven her claim of battery.
Joseph also alleged that Monroe’s actions and conduct were “pervasive and ongoing and known to the Board of Trustees and other officials” at Voorhees College. The complaint stated that she reported the sexual harassment and assault and battery to appropriate officials at Voorhees including the Human Resources Office and the Board of Trustees.
In answering the complaint, Monroe and Voorhees College denied “each and every allegation” related to sexual harassment and assault and battery.
The defendants, in their answer, acknowledged that Joseph notified one or more college officials, including Monroe, of “claimed sexual misconduct but failed to follow college policies and procedures with regard to investigating said wrongful conduct.”
The answer to the complaint also stated that Joseph was not “terminated or constructively discharged by (Voorhees College). Rather, (Joseph) voluntarily quit and terminated her employment with Voorhees College,” and it called for the suit to be dismissed.
In commenting on the jury’s decision, Don Fowler, Voorhees College Board of Trustees member and spokesperson, said, “The proceeding yesterday (Thursday) was disappointing but there are additional steps before the final determination is made in respect to this proceeding. We continue to have faith and confidence in Dr. Monroe, and I will not have any other comment until the court has concluded all of the steps in this process.”
Herbert W. Louthian, attorney for Joseph, said, “I feel that the jury was very conscientious in their approach to the case. They were attentive, they were diligent, they did their duty and, in so doing ,they have helped us protect the lives of women in the workplace.”