An Alameda County, Calif., jury on Monday rejected the sexual harassment and wrongful termination claims a paralegal made against her former boss, Oakland, Calif., lawyer Thomas Ostly, instead awarding him $1.55 million in damages in his defamation counter-suit.
The jury, made up of 10 women and two men, also found that the paralegal, Allison Moreno, acted with malice and oppression, laying the groundwork for awarding Ostly punitive damages. That phase of the trial got underway Tuesday.
One juror sided largely with Ostly's accuser.
Ostly's lawyer, Shane Anderies of San Francisco employment law firm Anderies & Gomes, said his closing was partly about how he believes in the kind of claims that Moreno brought. He represents plaintiffs himself when there's a strong case for sexual harassment or wrongful termination, he added.
"The system is not to be used improperly," he said. "The system is to be used for legitimate claims."
Judge Jo-Lynne Lee is presiding over the complex, contentious trial, which began with an evidentiary hearing at the end of June. Moreno, 30, sued in 2007, claiming that Ostly fired her when she refused to continue a sexual relationship with him. She said she felt pressured to have sex with her boss, and that she did so to protect her job and her plan to attend law school.
Ostly, 38, said the two dated each other, and that he never fired Moreno -- that he told her to go home one day because he couldn't deal with her belligerent attitude after he confronted her about a serious mistake she had made in a case. He said he broke up with Moreno after she wouldn't stop nagging him about his weight.
During the trial, under cross-examination by Anderies, Moreno sought to make the most of the fact that Ostly had personally deposed her twice in connection with her suit against him. She said she was intimidated by his presence and imposing size, and that it affected her state of mind during the depositions.
Anderies on Monday criticized that theme -- which Moreno's lawyer underscored in his closing. "His career was affected by this," Anderies said. "He continued to represent himself when he could to minimize costs."
The verdict also clears Ostly's former law firm, now known as Murphy, Vu, Thongsamouth & Chatterjee, where he and Moreno worked.
Moreno's lawyer, Jose-Luis Fuentes of Oakland's Siegel & Yee, wasn't immediately available for comment after the verdict.
In his countersuit, Ostly accused Moreno of telling colleagues at the Eviction Defense Center in Oakland -- where she worked part-time -- that Ostly was a sexual predator. He said Moreno took advantage of their sexual relationship, taking long lunches and billing him for time spent doing online shopping.