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SAN DIEGO - A San Diego judge has reduced a $30 million punitive damages verdict in a sexual harassment case against Ralphs Grocery Co., opening the door to a third trial in the case.
Superior Court Judge Michael Anello reduced the award to $8.25 million, reasoning that the punitive damages awarded to the six female plaintiffs were "grossly excessive" and the result of the jury's "passion and prejudice."
The order, released Monday, came three months after a San Diego jury granted what is believed to be the largest punitive damages award for a sexual harassment case in California, and among the top three in the United States. Now plaintiffs have 10 days to decide whether to accept the reduced award or undergo a new trial.
Several of the jurors in the case sent letters to the judge asking him not to throw out their $30 million damages verdict, and appeared in court during the hearing on Ralphs' motion for a new trial.
The case involves Roger Misiolek, a Ralphs store director who allegedly harassed female employees over the course of a decade. Misiolek is alleged to have verbally harassed and physically assaulted the women by throwing objects such as telephones and clipboards.
While Judge Anello characterized Misiolek's behavior as "utterly despicable," he noted that "there was no evidence to support the conclusion that Misiolek was a managing agent of defendant, and the evidence was insufficient to support the conclusion that defendant approved of or ratified Misiolek's conduct."
A new trial would mark the third in the case of Gober v. Ralphs Grocery, N72142. In 1998, a jury found the supermarket liable for gender harassment, failure to prevent gender harassment and malice or oppression based on its conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others, and served up $3.8 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
But the judge ordered a new trial on the punitive damages because one of the jurors was a shareholder in Ralphs' parent company, Kroger Co.