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Domino Sugar refinery plant in Yonkers. Photo: Youtube

A federal jury has awarded $13.4 million to a woman who suffered sexual harassment at a sugar refinery plant in Yonkers—an amount that her lawyer claims is unusually large and sends a “loud and clear” message in the #MeToo era.

“For a single plaintiff sex-harassment case, there are not a lot of awards in this range,” said Nathaniel Charny of Charny & Wheeler, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiff during a weeklong trial last week in Manhattan that resulted in a verdict and award against American Sugar Holding Inc., the parent company of Domino Sugar.

The company, for its part, disputed the claims. And the punitive damages, which account for $11.7 million of the total award, are likely to be reduced by a federal statutory cap on such punitive damages awards.

According to the suit, the plaintiff, Rosanna Mayo-Coleman, was a storeroom attendant at the Yonkers refinery with more than 20 years’ experience when, she alleged, she came under the supervision of a new male manager in 2008.

One of only three or four women in a union workforce of some 150 men, she allegedly began getting harassed by the manager repeatedly, eventually sending her into psychiatric counseling and treatment, Charny said.

The manager, Tyrone Smith, for years after 2008 commented regularly on her looks and solicited her romantic attention, the suit claimed. For instance, Charny said in a phone interview on Tuesday, Smith told her she had a “sweet ass” and that he “would tap that” if she weren’t “so old.”

He also allegedly spoke to her in such a way in front of others, Charny added, and he would call her into disciplinary meetings alone, close the door and pull her close, and one time grabbed her behind.

Smith, who was in his 30s, also allegedly denied her a chance for work at a better assignment helping welders in the refinery.

Mayo-Coleman, who is now near age 60 and is still working at the refinery, eventually sought psychiatric help and complained repeatedly to management from 2010 onward, including in a letter that said the harassment must stop.

The company in 2012 launched what Charny characterized as an incomplete and cursory internal investigation, sending in an HR representative from another plant who only interviewed some of the witnesses Mayo-Coleman named.

At trial, Charny said he and his trial partner and the lead counsel in the lawsuit, Megan Goddard of Goddard Law in Manhattan, called three employees the HR rep did not interview, right after opening arguments. They all took the stand and corroborated Mayo-Coleman’s story and allegations, he said.

American Sugar called an expert who challenged the plaintiff’s claims about her injuries, Charny said.

“In my opinion this award is historic,” Charny said. “The current context of #MeToo is empowering juries, and it empowered this jury to send a message of this velocity … Gender-based hostility in the workplace will no longer be tolerated and juries are sending the message loud and clear.”

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Jason Grant

Jason Grant is a New York-based litigation reporter for the New York Law Journal and Law.com, and a former practicing attorney in Manhattan. Contact Jason at jgrant@alm.com. On Twitter: @JasonBarrGrant

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