Officer Wins Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Both Perpetrator And Employer

Shirley Johnson is an officer with the City of Belzoni, Mississippi Police Department. Johnson sued the City, Police Chief Mickey Foxworth, and Belzoni Police Officer David James, claiming she was sexually harassed at work by James for approximately a year. Johnson reported the harassment to her supervisor, Foxworth, but claimed insufficient action was taken to remedy the situation.

The matter proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a unanimous verdict of $150,000 against the defendants, in favor of Johnson. The City, Foxworth and James challenged the jury’s award in the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Court found more than enough evidence to uphold the jury’s verdict. The Court observed: “Johnson described the conduct of James as outrageous, indecent and abusive. According to Johnson, James insulted her ability as a police officer because of her gender and made her the target of unwanted sexual innuendos and vulgar comments. Johnson testified that the behavior had continued for nearly a year on a daily basis. Johnson testified that she had reported the incident to Foxworth, who corroborated her testimony of reporting the harassment, and that she felt no action had been taken in regard to the complaints. Johnson testified that, as a result of James’s behavior, she had suffered from physical and emotional injuries and felt as if she could no longer perform her occupational duties.

“There was sufficient evidence to indicate a hostile working environment caused by James’s behavior, as well as the corresponding failure of Foxworth and the City to rectify the situation.”

James, Foxworth and the City also argued that the jury’s damages award had no basis in the evidence. Once again, the Court was unconvinced, finding: “Johnson testified that James’s behavior had affected her confidence, self respect, and dignity. Johnson testified that James’s behavior had offended and humiliated her. According to Johnson, she no longer wanted to be attractive to anyone. Johnson explained that she cut her hair very short so that no one would find her attractive. She testified that, ‘Physically, I started suffering with chest pains and headaches, unable to sleep.’ According to Johnson, she decided to take a management position at Double Quick in order to escape the work environment at the police department. Thus, there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s award.”

City of Belzoni v. Johnson, 2012 WL 501100 (Miss. 2012).