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A pastry chef at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami, who claimed she was harassed and assaulted by two male workers while supervisors looked the other way before eventually firing her, has been awarded $1.5 million in damages by a Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury. The verdict, handed down April 30, came after 3 1/2 hours of deliberations that resulted in the jury’s finding retaliation by the luxury resort against the former cook, Nisaratana Russell, known as Kitty. The jury found that the work environment Russell was subjected to was abusive, hostile and “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule or insult.” Furthermore, the jury found that the Doral failed to promptly investigate Russell’s complaints and that the person responsible for the decision to terminate Russell was aware of the many complaints she had made. “We the jury find that the Doral retaliated against the plaintiff for complaining of sexual harassment,” the jury concluded in its verdict form. Russell, 38, was awarded $12,000 for lost earnings, $1.4 million for mental anguish and loss of dignity, and $104,000 for future medical expenses. In addition, the jury awarded $55,000 to Russell’s husband, George Russell, for loss of consortium. “This was a woman that really needed justice,” said her attorney, Steven R. Reininger, a partner with Rasco, Reininger Perez & Esquenazi in Coral Gables, Fla. “She was targeted because she was a woman, and no one was there looking out for her.” At trial, the luxury resort was represented by David Shankman, a solo practitioner based in Tampa, Fla. He did not return phone calls to his office. Jodi Cross, the director of marketing for the Doral, said the resort’s attorneys would ask Circuit Judge Eleanor Shockett to set aside the verdict. “We are, of course, unhappy about the result and disagree with the verdict,” Cross said. “We strictly prohibit harassing conduct, including sexual harassment.” Cross declined to discuss specific allegations made in the case. According to Reininger, Russell was the only woman on staff in the kitchen. At trial, Reininger said, it was disclosed that Russell reported the harassment to the head pastry chef, the Doral’s executive chef and Doral security. Yet, no disciplinary action was taken. Furthermore, Reininger said, not only were the two men who harassed her, Elman Holder and Didier Schmielowski, never disciplined, but they continue to work at the Doral. Holder and Schmielowski could not be reached for comment. Cross confirmed that Holder continues to work at the Doral, saying he is a long-term employee who never had problems before or after the alleged incidents. She said Schmielowski is no longer working at the Doral. Russell filed suit against the Doral in October 1998 under the state’s anti-discrimination law — Florida’s Civil Rights Act — alleging that she was the recipient of unwelcome sexual harassment based upon her gender. Specifically she alleged she was subjected to a hostile work environment and then retaliation by her employer. Under the Florida Worker’s Compensation Act, she claimed she was wrongfully discharged. She alleged that the employees who had been harassing her were negligently retained by the Doral, that she was subjected to intentional and negligent infliction of mental distress and that the Doral was liable for loss of consortium on behalf of her husband. The only claim upon which the jury did not award damages to Russell was her claim that employees had been negligently retained. The facts laid out at trial illustrate a harrowing four months that eventually prompted Russell’s husband, George, to call one of the men harassing Russell and demand that the abuse stop. Instead, according to testimony at trial, the abuse only got worse. In November 1997, Russell started working at the Doral’s kitchen as a pastry cook. Reininger said that not long after she started, Elman Holder began verbal harassment that included whispering insults into her ear and shouting at her. In addition, he said, Holder pulled Russell’s ear and twisted her arm and wrist. Russell reported the incidents to the head pastry chef, Vandee McDaniel, who told Holder to stop or he would be “written up.” Instead the abuse continued and McDaniel never intervened. According to the lawsuit, in January 1998, while Russell was standing in a walk-in refrigerator, Holder threw a plastic water bottle at her, hitting her above the right ear. With McDaniel not working that day, the incident was reported to the Doral’s director of security and she was told that Holder would no longer bother her. On Feb. 4, Russell mentioned the abuse to the Doral executive chef Klaus Mueller. According to the lawsuit, he told her that he was aware of the complaints and agreed to watch out for her. Still, the abusive behavior continued and, in late February, George Russell telephoned Holder at home and demanded that he stop harassing his wife. After the phone call, George Russell told his wife that the harassment would either end or get worse. It got worse. Holder, and now Schmielowski, continued to badger Russell with verbal abuse and Schmielowski even punched Russell twice in her back and elbow, according to the lawsuit. The pain from the incident was bad enough that Russell missed work on March 1 and 2. She worked a full shift on March 3, but, when asked to work overtime, she declined because of continuing back pain. She returned to work on March 4 and worked a full shift but was informed at the end of the day that she was fired. “She never missed a shift [before the punching incident],” Reininger said. “And she, before that, she had always worked overtime.” Reininger said the Doral argued it had not been told about the continued abuse and that it fired her because she had missed shifts without notice. What never was revealed at trial, and what still remains a mystery, is why the two men acted so abusively. But to Reininger, the answer is simple, “There will always be bullies, and these guys were just bullies.”

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