Supermarket Harassment Suit

ByABC News
June 20, 2002, 5:53 PM

June 20 -- When a California jury awarded $30 million in damages against a supermarket chain in April, it was one of the biggest sexual harassment awards in legal history.

The amount, awarded against the Ralphs supermarket chain for failing to stop abuse by a store manager, was nearly 10 times greater than an earlier judgment in the case. But as the jurors left the courtroom, they were handed a packet of information that made them wish they had brought an even stiffer penalty.

"At that point, $30 million obviously to me fell short," the jury foreman, John Adair, told ABCNEWS. "They needed a whupping and they got a spanking."

During the trial, the jury had heard a litany of abuses that six female employees said they suffered at the hands of store manager Roger Misiolek after he took over the Ralphs store in Escondido, Calif. in 1995. The women said Misiolek terrorized them for more than a year by using foul language and racial slurs, fondling them against their will and throwing everything from pens and telephones to a 12-pack of soda at them. When they complained to Ralphs, the chain transferred Misiolek to another store, allowing him to keep his manager job, still overseeing 80 people.

Lawyers for Ralphs told the court that was the first time the chain's headquarters had had complaints about Misiolek, who had a reputation for boosting profits at the stores he managed.

After delivering their verdict, however, the jurors learned there was more to the story than they were told. The plaintiffs' attorney, Philip Kay, handed them a packet of information that the judge had ruled was inadmissible at trial.

Earlier Allegations Barred From Trial

The packet contained information alleging a 15-year reign of terror by Misiolek at six stores, starting in 1985, a full decade before he came to Escondido. A woman who worked under Misiolek at a Ralphs in La Mesa, Calif. in 1985 said he called her a "dirty Mexican" and threw a file folder at her, cutting her leg. A black woman who worked at a San Diego branch in 1992 said he insulted her when she had trouble pronouncing his name, telling her, "You could call me, 'Yessuh, boss.' " Both women and numerous others said they had complained to Ralphs management about Misiolek's conduct.