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A civil rights employment lawsuit filed by a former employee against the Sanitary Garbage Company, Inc. of Beatrice, Nebraska, resulted in a $1 jury verdict in favor of the employee. The lawsuit filed by Jonathan Curry alleged race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
However, there was only one claim which the jury found convincing. That claim involved coworker racial harassment. Clearly, the jury did not find much harm had resulted as a result of the coworker harassment, as they only awarded the minimum amount allowable, a single dollar. Notably, the jury returned their verdict in only a few short hours.
Coworker Harassment and Discrimination
Curry presented evidence showing other employees used racially pejorative terms direct at him, including the n-word. He also asserted that his hours were cut, and he was eventually terminated, after complaining about the discrimination he faced. The employer, for its part, was able to prove to the jury that the plaintiff was terminated not in retaliation for complaining about discrimination, but rather due to his own tardiness and absences.
The jury did find the harassment by coworkers to violate the plaintiff's civil rights. But the damages associated to the coworker harassment claim appear to have been undercut by evidence presented by the employer that corrective action was taken against other employees for the use of racially insensitive language.
Beware $1 Verdicts
A $1 jury verdict may sound like a defense win seven days a week and twice on Sunday, but that's not always the case. There are times when a single dollar awarded by a jury can result in a defendant being ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars, if not more.
If a law authorizes the payment of attorneys' fees and costs to the prevailing party, such as a Title VII case, winning even a single dollar means a plaintiff will be the prevailing party. Additionally, in some states, like California, some laws provide for statutory minimum damages. This means that a $1 jury verdict will be automatically adjusted to the statutory minimum amount by the presiding judge.