Yesterday a judge in Fresno issued an order throwing out the $19.1 million judgment against Fresno State awarded to former women's basketball Stacy Johnson-Klein last fall, saying he will order a new trial unless Johnson-Klein accepts a reduced award of $6.6 million instead. She has until February 22 to decide. (Fresno Bee's coverage is here.)
Judge Black reasoned that while the component of the jury award based on past and future economic damages (lost pay) was supported by the evidence, there was insufficient evidence to support its conclusion that Stacy Johnson-Klein deserved the $14 million in noneconomic damages (emotional harm). He noted, "In an extensive search of the case law involving employment discrimination, the court has located not a single case where a comparable emotional distress award has been made....Even in this state famous for runaway juries, nothing was found approaching this award." Consequently, he reassessed the value of Johnson-Klein's emotion distress to $600,000 (past) + $950,000 (future).
In our earlier post about Fresno State's post-trial motions, we suggested that this was the aspect of the jury's decision that was most vulnerable to reversal, and suggested that would seem to be an appropriate result. I think this is actually a no-brainer for Johnson-Klein: take the $6.6. This is an appropriate assessment of damages for past and future economic harm and a generous assessment of emotional harm. Fellow Fresno State plaintiff Lindy Vivas received $5.8 million a case where Fresno State's defense was, IMHO, even weaker.
In the same order, Judge Black rejected Fresno State's arguments that lack of evidence on the jury's findings on liability (as opposed to damages) warranted new trial or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The jury had substantial evidence from which to find that sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation occurred, he concluded.
Judge Black also rejected Fresno State's argument that juror misconduct occurred.