California Jury Awards $168 Million for Harassment Suit – Largest Sum for Single Victim in the Workplace
In February of this year, a jury in Sacramento, California awarded $168 million to a physician’s assistant who was maliciously harassed at her workplace. The verdict was the largest sum recorded for a single victim of workplace harassment in United States history.
The Plaintiff, Ani Chopourian, was a physician’s assistant in the cardiology wing of Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento. During her two years at Mercy General, Ms. Chopourian was repeatedly and egregiously harassed by the surgeons in her wing. One surgeon would regularly greet her each morning with the words, “I’m horny,” and a smack on her bottom. Another surgeon referred to Ms. Chopourian as a “stupid chick” in the operating room and made derogatory remarks toward her Armenian heritage – such as asking if she had joined Al Qaeda. On another occasion, a surgeon stabbed her with a needle and later broke the ribs of an anesthetized heart patient in a fit of rage.
Ms. Chopourian complained to hospital administration about this treatment several times but the situation never improved. Instead, Ms. Chopourian was fired days after making her last complaint. At trial, the hospital administration claimed that Ms. Chopourian was guilty of professional misconduct and she was fired for that reason.
Nevertheless, the jury was not swayed and awarded $125 million in punitive damages and $42.7 million for lost wages and anguish.
Dignity Health, the company that owns Mercy General Hospital, plans to appeal the decision. However, the verdict can be seen as a victory towards protecting the rights of employees.