Pollard PLLC has won a major victory in its workplace sexual assault case against Wal-Mart. The Firm is representing the victim, a former Wal-Mart employee, who was repeatedly sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by her boss over a period of several months. The perpetrator, the victim’s direct supervisor, had previously been fired by Wal-Mart after allegations of sexual assault and harassment and other misconduct. When initially fired, Wal-Mart listed the reason for his termination as “gross misconduct” and wrote that the perpetrator was not eligible for rehire. But the perpetrator had friends in high places, including an uncle who worked for Wal-Mart as a regional manager. Wal-Mart doctored the paperwork and rehired the perpetrator less than nine months later. Wal-Mart then repeatedly promoted the perpetrator, ultimately making him a manager. As a manager, the perpetrator treated Wal-Mart as his own sexual playground, routinely harassing and assaulting female subordinates, including one female employee who particularly caught his eye. The perpetrator routinely demanded naked pictures of the woman, demanded oral sex from her, followed her into the bathroom on a daily basis demanding hugs where he proceeded to forcibly hug and fondle her, followed her to the parking lot where he demanded sexual favors, and – in one instance – violently grabbed her by the crotch while in his manager’s office. When the victim complained to Wal-Mart corporate in Arkansas, they did nothing and for more than three weeks required the victim to keep working beside her assailant and attacker every day.
Pollard PLLC Takes Over the Case and Aggressively Pushes Toward Trial
For the past two years, the case had languished in state court. The Firm took over the case from prior counsel in late August 2018, then spent hundreds of hours reviewing the case file and the evidence and prepared a devastating Amended Complaint. On September 27th, 2018, the Firm moved for leave to file that Amended Complaint, which seeks not only compensatory damages but also punitive damages. Under Florida law, plaintiff must first obtain court permission to add a punitive damages claim.
Shortly after Pollard PLLC entered the litigation and moved to amend the complaint and add punitive damages, Wal-Mart fired its original counsel, Ford Harrison, and replaced them with the mega labor & employment firm Littler Mendelson. But Littler has not fared any better.
A Huge Victory: Punitive Damages Added to the Complaint
At a hearing on November 7th, the Honorable Judge Hafele, a Palm Beach Circuit Court who has been on the bench for twenty years called the Firm’s Motion for Leave to Amend and Add Punitive Damage one of the strongest foundations he has ever seen in support of a request to seek punitive damages.
Wal-Mart’s counsel attempted to push back, arguing that the allegations in the Amended Complaint were not true and that Wal-Mart’s own records didn’t actually establish that the company had prior knowledge of the perpetrator engaging in sexual assault or harassment on the job. The Judge repeatedly explained that he was not agreeing that the allegations were true, but rather, considering a proffer of facts and evidence that, if proven at trial, could support punitive damages against not only the perpetrator but also against Wal-Mart. The result should come as no surprise. Although Wal-Mart was aware of the Motion and the Firm’s intention to pursue punitive damages since September 15th, Wal-Mart’s lawyers did not file a response opposing the motion until the afternoon of the day before the hearing. With respect to the hearing, Pollard noted, “We are incredibly fortunate to be in front of an experienced, thorough and thoughtful judge like Judge Hafele. We look forward to trying the case to a jury in his courtroom.”
Punitive Damages: Seeking $200 Million for Gross Negligence, Recklessness, and More
The Firm is seeking damages against Wal-Mart under theories of negligent hiring, negligent retention, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress. At the hearing, the judge stated that, if true, the conduct alleged qualified as “Outrageous.” The Firm is seeking punitive damages against Wal-Mart based on its firing the perpetrator, having knowledge of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against him, doctoring its own paperwork, rehiring him, ignoring multiple complaints against him, and forcing the victim to continue working beside him every day for more than three weeks after she alerted Wal-Mart corporate. In the Firm’s view, that conduct is grossly negligent, reckless or intentional wrongdoing. The Firm is seeking at least $20 million in compensatory damages for the victim and $200 million in punitive damages to force Wal-Mart to clean up its act. Firm principal Jonathan Pollard adds, “Wal-Mart is the biggest company in the world and the largest employer in America. They need to set the standard. They need to be held to task for having a culture of nepotism and corruption that resulted in hiring, retaining and promoting a known sexual predator.”
Anyone who has information about workplace sexual assault or harassment occurring at Wal-Mart, particularly in the South Florida region, is encouraged to contact the lawyers at Pollard PLLC in Fort Lauderdale at 954-332-2380.
Pollard PLLC is a litigation firm committed defending people against corporate abuses and pursuing cases that serve the public interest. The Firm and its attorneys have extensive experience litigating a wide range of employment law, sexual assault, and personal injury cases. Jonathan Pollard has appeared in or on the New York Times, PBS News Hour, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Guardian, and more.