(Daily Mail Reporter) — A woman has been awarded a staggering $95 million in compensation in a sexual harassment case against her former employers - believed to be America’s highest ever payout.
Ashley Alford, in her mid-20s, won the award from her former employers, Aaron’s of St Louis, after a manager in the furniture and electrical store allegedly attacked her in a stockroom, lifting her shirt and masturbating over her while holding her down.
Prosecutors alleged Richard Moore - who is still awaiting trial - would pinch Miss Alford and make inappropriate comments before the 2006 attack.
They say on two occasions he hit her on the head with his penis.
On the second occasion, in October 2006, he was also said to have held her down on the warehouse floor, lifted her shirt and masturbated until he ejaculated on her.
Miss Alford’s lawyer David Ratner said: ‘From what we can tell, this is the absolute largest sex harassment verdict in the country for an individual plaintiff.’
Miss Alford claimed the assault came after almost a year of escalating harassment in a work environment, ‘rife with sexual jokes and lewd propositions.’
In court documents, Miss Alford said Mr Moore sought ‘sexual favors in return for her continued employment, her ability to leave for lunch or take a longer lunch hour and her ability to take a vacation.
‘For example, Alford testified that Moore gave her unsought gifts for which he demanded ‘sucky-sucky.”
She testified that in September 2006, Mr Moore grabbed her by her ponytail, unzipped his trousers, pulled her head back and hit her in the head with his penis.
The papers continued: ‘On October 12, 2006, Moore again grabbed Alford, pulled her head against his pants, pulled out his penis and hit her on the head with it.’
In a second attack that day, he was said to have held her down, lifted her shirt and masturbated until he ejaculated on her.
Mr Moore’s semen and DNA were later found on paper towels collected by the police.
Despite the massive $95 million award, it is understood a federal cap on harassment damages will limit the total to around $41.6 million.
The court heard how Miss Alford called an internal harassment hotline in May 2006 to report the alleged abuse, but said the complaint was never properly followed up.
She added that at some point after the call she was approached by Mr Moore’s supervisor, who confronted her in front of Mr Moore.
Mr Moore’s boss was then said to have told him to ‘watch his back’ because of the complaint.
Miss Alford claims that after the confrontation she was denied a promotion for complaining about the alleged assault.
In deciding the damages, jurors were told that the company was worth $980 million and made $118 million last year in profit.
The Atlanta based company has 1,800 stores nationwide and employs more than 10,000 people.
The company found Aaron’s liable for negligent supervision, sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The suit was originally filed by the U.S. government Equal Employment opportunity Commission in 2008, before Miss Alford’s lawyers took over the case.
Judy Cates, the lawyer who originally filed the suit, said after the decision: ‘This company has always denied responsibility and continues to deny its responsibility to its workers.’
She added the jury: ‘Wanted to send a message to Aaron’s to change the culture and environment for their employees.’
Chad Strickland, vice president of associate resources at Aaron’s said: ‘Aaron’s is extremely disappointed with the jury’s verdict and believes that the award does not accurately reflect the evidence that was presented in this case.’
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