$155 Million Workplace Defamation Award Overturned

Too many victims of bullying and harassment have seen their reputations torn to shreds as they struggle to heal and find new employment.  In 2010 Dr. Katherine Murphy lost sexual harassment and retaliation claims against the Aventura City charter school she helped found and Aventura City Manager Eric Soroka.  Later an Appeals Court upheld the verdict stating she was unable to prove a hostile work environment and, based on the testimony of co-workers, Soroka did not “single out females as targets for the profanity”:

Murphy testified that she asked Soroka to stop bullying her and that she complained to a former supervisor, Soroka’s assistant, and a city commissioner that Soroka had used “vulgar, inappropriate language,” and engaged in “bullying, yelling, [and] screaming.” Murphy failed to report Soroka’s conduct, formally or informally, to her employer, and Murphy acknowledged that she did not complain to Soroka’s assistant or the city commissioner that Soroka’s conduct was sexually hostile or sexually harassing. The district court correctly entered summary judgment against Murphy’s complaint of retaliation.

Fast forward two years to November 2012.  Murphy wins a whopping $155 million for defamation, conspiracy, and intentional infliction of emotional distressThe Miami Herald reports that:

“a Miami-Dade jury decided that City Manager Eric Soroka and the school’s registrar, Nicole Munroe, an employee of Charter Schools USA, had conspired to ruin the reputation of Murphy, who was fired as principal of Aventura City of Excellence School in 2006. Her firing stemmed from allegations that a student skipped the wait list at the popular charter school to enter the fifth grade. The jury issued a $155 million award.

But, barely three days later a judge overturned the award.

Large jury verdicts reverberate throughout the business community and whether or not the award is reinstated this case should make a deep impression. Soroka himself was hit with punitive damages in the amount of $500,000. [Click this link to see how the jury came up with the $155 million figure]. The Daily Mail reports that “the judge’s decision erases her award and leaves the future of her case to an appeals court, if Murphy decides to pursue it further.”

Murphy’s attorneys are quoted as saying theyplan to fight to have the jury verdict reinstated.  Murphy has been out of work since 2006 and claims her health has been compromised:

“Soroka fired her in the phone call and threatened, ‘if you come back, the entire staff will leave… they do not like you,’ Murphy claimed.  She also alleged that Soroka had regularly called her names like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ and ridiculed her for attending events with members of the school’s governing board… She has not been able to find work in the education field since 2006 and doctors testified that a blockage in her colon was related to the stress stemming from her treatment by Soroka, according to the Miami Herald. The blockage grew more severe when it led to an inflammation that put her in a coma… [Daily Mail]

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