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Court Tosses Punitives Based on "Good Faith Efforts"

William Dominic, an accounting manager in DeVilbiss Air Power Co.'s Decatur, Ark., plant, submitted to his plant manager in 2004 a laundry list of sexual harassment allegations against his supervisor, Patricia Fant. Among the accusations were charges Fant had tried to unzip Dominic's pants and grab his genitals while having after-work drinks, offered to "tie him up and attack him" and became jealous if he spoke to other female co-workers--"a Fatal Attraction-type thing," Dominic would later tell the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.

The company couldn't substantiate most of Dominic's claims and, after a brief paid leave, Fant was back on the job. Soon after Dominic accused Fant of retaliation. This time DeVilbiss hired an outside firm to conduct an investigation and audit the previous investigation; still, it could not substantiate the claims.

Although investigations couldn't substantiate the more serious claims, the company still gave Dominic special assignments that let him work from home and ordered Fant to supervisor training and warned her against retaliation. They also required all employees to attend a sexual harassment training session. When Dominic accused Fant of retaliation, DeVilbiss closely supervised and minimized their direct communications.

The company's thorough handling of the matter paid off to the tune of $250,000. "Dominic is the best road map out there for what a company can and should do to create a protective cover from punitive damages in Title VII cases," says Bill Bruner, associate general counsel for Black and Decker, which now owns DeVilbiss.

Associate Editor

Melissa Maleske

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