A federal jury recently awarded a female scientist $3 million for her gender discrimination claims against PPG Industries, Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Half of the award was for emotional distress damages.
In the case, Carol Knox worked for PPG for 23 years and was a Project Manager in the research and development group, where she was the only female, at the time of her termination in 2013. Knox brought suit in 2015 alleging gender and age discrimination.
Knox alleged that her supervisor had fired her because he did not want to work with a woman. Knox asserted that her supervisor falsely accused her and conducted a sham investigation as an excuse to terminate her. She alleged that her supervisor for the last three years with the company, who was a decision-maker in her termination, directed sexist remarks at her, demonstrating a bias against women, and treated her differently than her male counterparts by assigning her to administrative teams rather than technical teams. Knox further claimed that she reported her concerns regarding some of this behavior to PPG’s Human Resources department. Finally, Knox asserted that shortly prior to her termination, her supervisor attempted to drive her out of his group by encouraging her to take a different position within PPG, and then became “irate” and “menacing” when she decided not to transfer.
The company argued that it had a legitimate basis for firing Knox. Shortly prior to her termination, Knox was involved in investigating whether an extramarital affair between a male manager and his female subordinate violated company policies. Later, Knox and other employees received an email from an unknown address attaching photos of the subjects of the affair that suggested a romantic relationship between the two. PPG investigated the origin of the email and questioned Knox about a similar email she had received six months earlier, of which Knox denied all knowledge. PPG then terminated Knox for making inconsistent statements and failing to cooperate fully into PPG’s investigation. Knox argued that the investigation was a “sham” and an excuse to terminate her.
After a four-day trial in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, the jury ruled in favor of Knox on her gender discrimination claims, awarding her $993,495 in front pay, $478,585 in back pay, and $1.5 million in emotional distress damages.
This case is an example of the way jury trials may play out in the era of the #MeToo movement. Plaintiffs now have more support than ever to bring their claims. For example, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund offers help with legal fees and costs, as well as connections to the media, to individuals claiming sexual harassment and retaliation. Employers should make sure to respond to all complaints with a thorough and objective investigation, and all subsequent employment actions or investigations involving the complainant should be strictly job-related and well-documented.