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A federal jury in Camden, N.J., last week awarded more than $1.5 million to a woman who said that as the only female working in the auto body department of a Marlton, N.J., car dealership, she was constantly harassed by male co-workers and was ultimately forced to quit when she was demoted and transferred. Most of the award from the nine-member jury came as compensation for Kathleen Hubis’ emotional distress. The jury awarded Hubis $910,000 on her claim for emotional distress; $222,689 in back pay; and $396,622 in front pay. It also found that Hubis was not paid as much as her male counterparts for the same work and awarded her $20,369 on her claim under the Equal Pay Act. In a second phase of the trial, the jury found that the conduct of Burns-Pontiac Corp. in failing to cure the “hostile environment” was outrageous and awarded Hubis another $10,000 in punitive damages for a total verdict of $1,559,680. If the verdict stands, the cost to Burns is likely to swell to more than $2 million because Hubis will also be awarded fees for the team of lawyers who pressed her case since 1996 — Nancy O’Mara Ezold and Carol Hartz of the Law Offices of Nancy O’Mara Ezold in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and H. Thomas Hunt of Cureton Caplan Hunt Scaramella & Clark, in Delran, N.J. According to court papers, Hubis had worked at Burns for more than 10 years as the assistant manager of the body shop when she was passed over for a position of “module leader” when the department was restructured. Hubis claimed that she was more qualified than two of the three men who received the promotion. She also said the company’s decision to transfer her to Burns Honda — as an assistant to an assistant, and with a $10,000 pay cut — was a “constructive discharge” that forced her to quit. She also said the environment at Burns was a hostile one in which men routinely used vulgar and sexual language to refer to her, and often displayed pornographic cartoons, photographs and videos in the workplace. But the jury rejected Hubis’ claim that her supervisor had exposed himself to her on two occasions, finding instead that Hubis was never forced to resist his sexual advances. Witnesses for Burns denied all of the allegations and said Hubis was not given the module leader position because of problems dealing with customers. The jury found that Burns had violated both Title VII and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, as well as the Equal Pay Act. In an interview this week, attorney Ezold said she believes that the jury awarded a large amount for the emotional distress claim because Hubis was a single mother who was devastated by the loss of her job. The cut in pay — from $33,000 to $23,000 — was designed to make Hubis quit, Ezold said, and the jury agreed with that claim in finding “constructive discharge.” The trial, before U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Brotman, began on Feb. 26 and the jury began deliberating on March 8 and returned a verdict on March 9. Burns was represented by attorney John T. Kelley of Kelley Wardell & Craig in Haddonfield, N.J.

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