A Queens, NY jury awarded $15 million to a nurse in a sexual harassment case, one of the largest judgments ever awarded to an individual in New York state court. Janet Bianco, a nurse at Flushing Hospital, endured unwanted sex talk, propositions, and even groping from one of the hospital’s doctors, defendant Matthew Miller. Flushing Hospital and Dr. Matthew Miller each paid half of the damages to plaintiff Bianco.
Bianco’s attorneys, Lenard Leeds, Jeff Brown, Rick Ostrove and Tom Ricotta of Leeds Brown Law, had some strong words regarding the case, stating that the verdict should serve as a reminder to all employers that a simple sexual harassment policy is futile without proper training and enforcement. “This is a reminder to people in power,” Ostrove said. “If you are in a high-ranking position, and you see something improper, you can’t ignore it. If this climate of abuse exists, you can’t allow it to fester. In this case, hospital supervisors watched my client being sexually harassed and did nothing about it. The jury found that unacceptable.”
The jury of four women and two men also found that the hospital neglected to offer any anti-sexual harassment training. Employees therefore worked in an environment that allowed or otherwise fostered the exchange of dirty jokes, abusive language and unwanted sexual advances between employees. Even when confronted with Miller’s blatant advances toward Bianco, both doctors and hospital administrators neglected to remedy the issue.
“I have a message for anyone who is being sexually harassed: make sure you speak out and complain – you don’t have to allow yourself to be a victim,” Bianco remarked in a statement made after the ruling. Although Bianco felt a sense of relief after the ruling, she did not want to recount the painful experiences she had endured but told the New York Daily News in an interview that Miller “…didn’t try to hide it,” harassing her in hallways, patient rooms and at the nurse’s station.
Bianco recounted to the court that Miller’s conduct toward her escalated from flirting to aggressive sexual advances. He once cornered and groped her in a room where two patients were sedated. In another instance, another doctor witnessed Miller forcibly kiss her. Even after complaining to her supervisors, Bianco’s situation did not change. That is, until she complained in writing that Dr. Miller had violently assaulted her twice. Four days after the complaint was lodged, the hospital fired Miller. According to a medical expert, Bianco now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression resulting from the sexual harassment she endured from Dr. Miller.
The jury seemed visibly moved as the trial concluded, according to Ostrove, who compared the hospital administration’s non-action to the crisis of steroid abuse in baseball. “I told the jury, ‘It’s just like the scandal in baseball. The management says they didn’t know…but we ask, ‘How many years did they look the other way?’”
Jeffery K. Brown, managing partner of Leeds Brown Law, commented, “This landmark victory will serve as a beacon of hope for victims of harassment who are too frightened or ashamed to come forward, and a warning to employers that the days of the boys’ club mentality in the workplace are over.