One Jury to Decide Dial Punitives

February 17, 2003 ( - A federal judge hearing a large class-action sexual harassment lawsuit against The Dial Corporation has decided that a single jury will decide whether Dial should pay the whole class of plaintiffs' punitive damages.

According to a news media release from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the decision by US District Judge Warren Urbom rejected an effort by Dial to have individual juries hear each plaintiff’s claim. Urbom’s ruling, in what the EEOC said is its largest sexual harassment suit since the $34-million, 1998 settlement with Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America, clears the way for the scheduled start of an April 28 trial.

“I am persuaded that awarding one punitive award to the class is the best way to go,” Urbom wrote. “Expecting several separate juries to determine with reason separate and individual amounts with the purpose of punishment of the defendant and deterrence of the defendant and others from such pattern and practice in the future is unrealistic at best.”

EEOC officials were jubilant that Urbom had accepted their arguments on an important legal issue. “The approach sought by Dial was to divorce punitive damages from evidence of broad patterns of harassment and to fragment the issue into dozens and dozens of individualized assessments.” John Hendrickson, EEOC Regional Attorney in Chicago, said in a statement. “That has been flatly rejected by the Court. It can only be described as a huge victory for the EEOC and for the victims of harassment.”

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Noelle Brennan said that if there were an award of punitive damages to the class, the court would apportion that award among individual victims at a later stage of the proceedings. The case is EEOC v. The Dial Corporation, N.D. Illinois No. 99 C 3356.