Determined whether it is proper for a a federal appeals court to overturn the jury verdict when a sexual harassment plaintiff has convinced a jury that she was subjected to a hostile environment in her workplace.
Diane Duncan worked for three years as a technical training clerk at General Motors. After she turned down a sexual proposition from her supervisor, he launched a campaign of demeaning, humiliating, and hostile behavior toward her that lasted until she quit her job. Among other things, Ms. Duncan's supervisor repeatedly touched her or made sexual innuendos toward her. He made her draw a sexual image to demonstrate her drafting skills while her co-workers were asked to draw automotive parts.
When Ms. Duncan could no longer take the constant stream of harassment, she quit her job and filed a sexual harassment suit against her employer. After hearing all the evidence, the jury found that Ms. Duncan had been subjected to a "hostile working environment" and awarded her $1 million. In a shocking decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the jury verdict on the ground that the harassment was not so "severe and extreme" as to constitute employment discrimination.
Legal Momentum filed an amicus brief supporting Ms. Duncan's effort to have the U.S. Supreme Court review the case. Our brief argued that the Court should intervene to impede the growing trend of lower courts usurping the function of juries in sexual harassment cases. We also demonstrated how the decision and others like it thwart the intent of Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which gave sexual harassment victims the right to seek damages and to a jury trial. To our disappointment, however, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari on April 18, 2003. The Minneapolis firm of Nichols Kaster & Anderson provided pro bono assistance on the case.