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Employment – discrimination — punitive damages

United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit


Employment – discrimination — punitive damages

The district court properly vacated an award of punitive damages against an employer, where the employer attempted to stop, and ultimately did stop, harassment of an employee.

“The record supports the district judge’s determination that Chrysler’s failure to comply with Title VII by preventing the harassment against May was not malicious or reckless. Chrysler had a written anti-harassment policy, which is relevant to the assessment of its good-faith efforts, though not sufficient by itself to insulate it from punitive damages liability. Hertzberg v. SRAM Corp., 261 F.3d 651, 663 (7th Cir. 2001); Bruso, 239 F.3d at 858. Chrysler also provided training to its employees and encouraged them to come forward with any information that they might have about the harassment of May. Chrysler involved ‘about 20 people’ ranging from hourly employees to corporate office personnel in its efforts to stop and prevent the harassment of May. Kuborn testified that she spent approximately three hours a day on May and that she and McPherson discussed the May situation ‘probably on a daily basis’—whether they were ‘doing enough,’ ‘doing everything that [they] possibly could,’ and whether ‘there [was] something that we were not considering that we should have been.’ Kuborn could not recall any other employment matter involving one person that involved more time, focus, and angst on her part. Similarly, McPherson could not recall any other situation at Chrysler where ‘we did more over a prolonged period of time together as a team to try to work through an issue.’ Indeed, Chrysler considered other measures, for example, an undercover investigator and additional surveillance cameras, but decided not to utilize them. The district court was correct to conclude that the evidence is simply insufficient to support a finding that Chrysler acted with ‘malice or reckless indifference’ to May’s ‘federally protected rights.’”

“To be sure, Chrysler could have done more to stop the harassment. But given the situation that it faced—an anonymous harasser, an assembly plant covering four million square feet, and a three-shift-a-day operation, Chrysler’s response was enough as a matter of law to avoid punitive damages liability.”


11-3000 & 11-3109 Otto v. Chrysler Group, LLC

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Kapala, J., Per curiam.

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