A St. Louis woman who said she was hit on the head with her boss' genitals was awarded what her attorneys believe is the largest payout ever in an American sexual harassment lawsuit.
Ashley Alford was awarded $95 million in compensation from The Aaron's Inc., a large rent-to-own furniture chain after she said the store failed to act after a manager allegedly assaulted her twice in one day, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"This company has always denied responsibility and continues to deny its responsibility to its workers," Judy Cates, who originally filed Alford's suit, told the newspaper.
She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the award was likely to be capped because of federal law and will be closer to $40 million, plus attorney fees.
Alford claimed that the store's then-manager, Richard Moore, gave her inappropriate nicknames and touched her inappropriately when she first began working there in 2005. Nearly a year after she was hired, she claimed, he came up to her in the stock room and whacked her on the head with his penis. Then, later that day, he lifted her shirt and masturbated over her as he held her down, she said.
He did not return to work after those incidents.
Months before the final incident, Alford said she called the employee harassment hotline, but an investigator never got back to her. The suit also claims that she was denied a promotion for reporting the harassment.
The company dismissed the award as a classic case of a "runaway jury."
"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, vice president of associate resources for Aaron's. "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."
The company's net worth is estimated at $980 million, according to the suit. Its net profit in 2010 was $118 million.