Judge allows $250K verdict to stand in EEOC's case against Costco

By Shanice Harris | Jul 5, 2017

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) – An Illinois federal judge recently denied motions made by Costco Wholesale Corp. and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC originally filed a lawsuit against the wholesaler on behalf of a former employee accusing the company of sexual harassment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. On May 15, Judge Ruben Castillo denied motions by both parties, letting stand a $250,000 jury award against Costco.

The EEOC brought a lawsuit on behalf of former Costco employee, Dawn Suppo. She alleged that she was sexually harassed for more than a year by a Costco customer who frequented the establishment. 

The trial was held in December, and she was ultimately rewarded $250,000 in damages. However, the jury did not believe that the plaintiff proved that Costco acted in negligence or disregard for Suppo’s well-being, so it denied awarding punitive damages.

Costco moved for entry of judgment. It based its argument on the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, which would offer it a new trial. The rule allows a district court to enter judgment against a prevailing party in trail court if a jury would not have sufficient evidence to find for a particular party. 

The EEOC filed a motion for back pay and injunctive relief.

Costco argued that the EEOC failed to prove that Suppo was harassed because of her sex and did not deserve the award money. It also argued that EEOC did not prove that the harassment was severe and persuasive enough to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Costco said the actions made towards Suppo by the Costco customer, Thad Thompson, did not count as harassment under Title VII. According to Suppo’s testimony in the original trial, the behavior by Thompson included staring, unwanted physical touching, constant requests for dates and very personal questions about her life. She also testified that she videotaped her in the store while she was doing her work duties.

Because of the evidence and Thompson's own testimony, Castillo denied Costco’s motion and its request for a retrial. Also, EEOC’s motion was denied for failing to prove that Suppo was unlawfully fired in violation of Title VII and that she was she was entitled to back pay from Costco.

Castillo also found the events leading to the claim were unlikely to occur again, so he denied injunctive relief.

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Eastern Division of the Northern District of Illinois U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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