Labor & Employment

Plaintiff Wins $95M in Sexual Harassment Case; Aaron's Vows to Appeal, Blames Runaway Jury


In what may be a record-breaking award to a single plaintiff in a sexual harassment case, a federal jury in East St. Louis, Ill., yesterday awarded $95 million to a former employee of Aaron’s Inc. Of that amount, $15 million was compensatory and $80 million was punitive damages.

The plaintiff said an Aaron’s store manager made suggestive comments, touched her inappropriately and sexually assaulted her. Although she complained to a supervisor and called an Aaron’s hotline, she said, the rent-to-own retailer allegedly took no action, reports Furniture Today.

The manager was arrested after an alleged sexual assault of the plaintiff on Oct. 12, 2006, and a criminal case is pending, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The plaintiff’s complaint alleges that the claimed sexual assault had followed nearly a year of sexual harassment. In another incident, it says, the manager hit her in the head with his penis.

The company says the actual award will be capped at about $45 million in the Southern District of Illinois case, but is not happy about that amount either.

“Aaron’s is extremely disappointed with the jury’s verdict and believes that the award does not accurately reflect the evidence that was presented in this case,” said Chad Strickland, who serves as the company’s vice president of associate resources, in a written statement. “We feel strongly that this verdict is the result of a decision made by a classic runaway jury, and because of that we are confident that the damages will be greatly reduced. We intend to appeal the verdict and seek a fairer and more equitable outcome.”

RTO Online, another trade publication, reports that punitive damages were determined by the court to be allowable on counts alleging common law assault, common law battery, negligent supervision and retaliation.

In Aaron’s statement, Strickland said the alleged misconduct of the former manager was “far outside the scope of his employment and … never condoned by the company.”

Aaron’s also says the company trains its employees to follow appropriate workplace practices, and, according to its president and chief executive officer, Robin Loudermilk, “is committed to establishing and building a strong, professional and respectful employee culture, in every community we serve and in every store we operate.”

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Lawsuit: Aaron’s Rental Co. Laptops Can Track Users’ Keystrokes and Screenshots, Take Webcam Photos”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Aaron’s to appeal $95 million sexual harassment verdict”

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