Dollars 7m is the price of harassment

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The Independent Online
IN A judgment hailed as a significant victory for women, a US court has ordered the world's largest law firm to pay almost dollars 7m ( pounds 4.5m) in punitive damages to a former secretary for sexual harassment, writes Phil Reeves. The ruling by a jury in San Francisco, which may be the largest harassment settlement, came as a bombshell as the woman, Rena Weeks, had filed for dollars 3.7m.

Ms Weeks, 40, a former employee at Baker & McKenzie, complained that a partner in the firm put sweets in her blouse breast pocket, groped her breast, pinned her arms behind her back, and declared: 'Let's see which one is bigger.' The 1,700-lawyer firm has called the award 'grossly disproportionate' and says it plans to appeal against the judgment. Legal experts watched the case closely, because it was a test of the degree to which companies are liable if they fail to stop their employees from sexually harassing others.

Ms Weeks, now a pre-school teacher, worked for the company for three months in 1991, but quit after the incident with the profit- sharing partner, Martin Greenstein, whom she also accused of making suggestive comments and fondling her buttocks. The lawyer denied the allegations, saying she brought the suit because she was incapable of doing her job. During the six-week trial other women testified that he grabbed them, propositioned them, or made lewd remarks.

After a 10-2 vote, jurors awarded Ms Weeks dollars 7.1m punitive damages - dollars 6.9m from the firm and dollars 225,000 from the 49-year-old Mr Greenstein, who resigned last year.