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SAN DIEGO -- The 4th District Court of Appeal here ruled this week that a lengthy sexual harassment lawsuit against Compton, Calif.-based Ralphs should go to trial for a third time, to determine whether the company has to pay punitive damages to four women who claim that they endured repeated verbal and physical abuse in 1995 and 1996 by Escondido, Calif. store manager Roger Misiolek, and that Ralphs failed to do anything about the situation, according to published reports.
The court said a new trial was merited only on the issue of how much the grocer should pay four of the original six women who filed suit against it in 1996. In 1998, $3.3 million was awarded to the plaintiffs, but that award was thrown out after it was found that one of the jurors looked into the value of Ralphs' parent company and shared that information the others on the jury. In 2002 a Vista, Calif. jury awarded the plaintiffs $30 million in punitive damages, but Superior Court Judge Michael Anello later cut the amount to $9 million.
In the latest decision, Associate Justice James A. McIntyre additionally ruled that the women could ask the trial judge to let a jury hear evidence that was barred from the second trial. The plaintiffs want especially to introduce evidence about Misiolek's conduct after being transferred from Escondido to locations in Mission Viejo and Irvine, as well as his actions before he worked in Escondido, and how Ralphs responded to those actions. The appeals court ruled that such evidence could be admitted if the judge determines that it's not prejudicial to Ralphs.
Ralphs attorney Helene Wasserman said in the North County Times that she regarded this week's decision as "a victory" in general, but that the company's lawyers were still considering whether Ralphs should pursue any further appeals.
"The bottom line is, we appreciate the decision and the opportunity to go to trial with what we believe is all the relevant evidence," plaintiffs' attorney Charles A. Bird told the Union-Tribune.
The number of plaintiffs was originally six, but two of them are no longer involved in the lawsuit, having accepted smaller amounts of money after Judge Anello gave them the choice of taking less money or having him grant Ralph's request for a new trial.