A New York jury returned a verdict in early February in the trial of Marchuk v. Faruqi & Faruqi, a highly publicized case in which Alexandra Marchuk (Marchuk), a first-year associate lawyer, alleged sexual harassment against her former law firm and a partner in the firm, Juan Monteverde (Monteverde). The firm and Monteverde denied the plaintiffs allegations, describing the romantic involvement between the partner Monteverde and the associate Marchuk as consensual, and stemming from Marchuks interest. The case concluded with both sides claiming victory after the jury returned a mixed verdict.
Marchuk alleged that the firm and Monteverde created a hostile work environment in violation of New York City, New York state, and federal laws. She sought $2,000,000 in actual damages as well as punitive damages. The Jury denied her federal and state claims and granted her judgment under the New York City claims, finding Monteverde and the firm jointly liable. Marchuk was awarded $90,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages. As to the punitive damages, Monteverde was found to be liable for 90%. Interestingly, Marchuk had previously declined a $425,001 offer of judgment from the Defendants.
In a somewhat rare occurrence, one of the jurors in the case gave an interview to the legal website Above the Law that may help shed some light on how the jury interpreted the case, and, more generally, helps us understand the way jurors thought about this discrimination suit. Here are some takeaways from the jurors conversation:
The jury did not divide on gender lines, which the juror had expected. The deliberations themselves were quite heated. At times it appeared that there would be a complete defense verdict, with too many jurors not accepting Marchuks allegations. At a point in the deliberations it may have been down to only one juror who wouldnt agree to a complete defense verdict. That jurors reluctance caused the other jurors to look back to the details and consider giving Marchuk some relief.
The jury had a generally low impression of Monteverde. They believed that he told inappropriate jokes and was a womanizer. The juror described him as a jerk. They believed that he made advances on the plaintiff, but felt that they were not unwelcome. Nor did they believe that they were so pervasive as to have caused Marchuk to quit her job. The juror pointed to emails and chat messages from Marchuk to Monteverde in which she indicated that she wanted to continue working not only at the firm but also for him.
The most contentious allegations of the case centered on the events that occurred after a holiday party. Marchuk accused Monteverde of forcible sexual assault in his office, essentially rape. None of the jurors believed her version of those events. They couldnt credit her story more than his because her story appeared to have too many inconsistencies.
One such inconsistency involved her alleged reason for having gone from one bar to another with Monteverde. She claimed that she wanted to discuss her bonus. The juror didnt believe that was something she realistically did while admittedly drunk at a holiday party. Interestingly, the juror also noted that the story about bonus discussions made Marchuk look greedy, like money was a motivator.
Finding neither party credible, the jury did not believe that Marchuk had proven her allegations. They also didnt believe she filed the suit just to get paid. Instead the juror thought that Marchuk engaged in consensual activity with Monteverde, and that when she later revealed that to others they convinced her that it was inappropriate, perhaps even convinced her of the viability of a lawsuit.
With so much doubt about Marchuk how did the jury arrive at the award they gave Marchuk? The juror believed that the New York City law required only that Marchuk prove she was treated less well because she was a woman. Interestingly, they noted that in terms of her work she was probably being treated better than anyone else. She was in a top group at the firm and was traveling to hearings despite only having been with the firm a brief time. However, they felt that the inappropriate jokes and sexual advances to which she was subjected sufficiently amounted to being treated less well because she was a woman.
That basically explains how the verdict was reached against Monteverde, but what about the Faruqis? The jury was impressed by both Nadeem and Lubna Faruqi, and believed them to be good people. But Nadeem had admitted that he found out about a kiss between Monteverde and Marchuk. He documented the incident but didnt do anything to address the potential issues raised by that relationship. The jury felt that the Faruqis should have done more and expressed as much by including them in both the actual damage and punitive damage awards.
The jury awarded actual damages of front pay and back pay. However, they unanimously rejected emotional damages for Marchuks alleged post-traumatic stress disorder. The jury found her psychological expert to be no more credible than the defendants.
Asked how they viewed the parties, the juror explained that they had expected something more from Marchuk. The judge and the opening statements had prepared them for a disturbing story but when Marchuk presented her side the jury found it too riddled with inconsistencies. Monteverde, on the other hand, had seemed detached and remote, even bored, throughout the trial. When he took the stand he actually rehabilitated his image somewhat, even if he didnt ever come off as likeable.
The jury was extremely impressed with defense attorney Scott Bursor. They joked that theyd all like his card in case they have legal issues. They found Marchuks attorney, Harry Lipman, to be somewhat less effective. The jurys central complaint was that his witnesses, including Marchuk, were over-rehearsed. They repeated lines verbatim and seemed unnatural to the jury. They found the judge to be fair and consistent.
In describing the overall experience the juror complained that the trial far exceeded the expected length. The trial process itself was a hardship on the jurors. The jury was told that the trial would only last two weeks, instead it lasted four weeks. They were frustrated that so much of the trial mechanism is hidden from the jury. Sidebars and evidentiary issues are decided without the jury able to witness the discussions. The juror felt that the seven or eight hour days included only three hours of actual trial testimony. This is an understandable complaint, and a difficult one to work around when so much of the trial process involves evidentiary discussions that the Court conducts out of the jurys hearing, and frequently while they arent even in the courtroom.
Overall this was an enlightening interview. Much of what was said was consistent with other jurors reported experiences. Objections, sidebars and evidentiary rulings can break up the trials rhythm and make for more downtime than actual trial testimony. What is perhaps most interesting is to hear how the jury considered the issue of credibility with regards to the individual claims, and to see how those considerations led to the ultimate result.
The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters, including discrimination matters, for almost sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.