Updated at 12:07 p.m. on June 5
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals last week upheld a jury's verdict in favor of a former personal trainer who sued a Washington lobbyist more than 30 years his senior for sexual harassment.
A three-judge appellate panel upheld a District of Columbia Superior Court jury's verdict of $812,000 in damages and the trial judge's award of more than $455,000 in attorney fees and costs in the sexual harassment case Sasha Stamenkovic brought against Jeanne Campbell, president and chief executive officer of The Campbell Group, when he was 26. Campbell and her firm, formerly Campbell-Crane & Associates, had appealed the awards, saying $812,000 in damages was extreme, and they didn't receive an explanation for the attorney fees and costs.
“Appellants argue that the trial court made instructional and evidentiary errors during trial, and that, post-trial, the court erred in denying their motion for judgment as a matter of law or for new trial challenging the jury’s verdict on compensatory damages, and abused discretion in awarding attorneys’ fees,” Associate Judge Vanessa Ruiz, who holds retired status, wrote in an opinion. “Although we agree with appellants on one of these claims, that the instruction of what constitutes a ‘hostile’ work environment was incomplete, we conclude the error was harmless.”
Stamenkovic's lawyer, Michael Hoare of Michael J. Hoare P.C., said his client was “very pleased” with the appellate court’s decision.
“It has been a very long and difficult struggle,” Hoare said.
Stamenkovic, a Serbian immigrant, first met Campbell in 2001 at the Washington Sports Club, where she was one of his clients, according to the opinion. Less than a year later, Campbell hired him as vice president of international and corporate development and meeting manager at her firm and became his sponsor to obtain a green card.
Upon joining the firm, Stamenkovic said he didn’t see a line between work and party time. Stamenkovic said Campbell harassed him with sexual innuendo and made advances and even demands, which he rebuffed. The opinion notes that Campbell, according to Stamenkovic, once “wanted him in her room for ‘rough sex’ ” and propositioned him for oral sex, at one time calling him “the Arm Candy,” in an e-mail.
After Stamenkovic filed his suit in 2005, the former personal trainer saw a psychiatrist, who said he believed that the man suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
“Dr. [William] Lawson explained that appellee had an ‘intense fear’ that Campbell-Crane would ensure that ‘he never worked anywhere else’ and he felt ‘helplessness or horror’ because he thought ‘that he was at a significant risk of being deported,’ “ the opinion says. “Dr. Lawson testified that Stamenkovic complained that Campbell ‘was making sexual demands on him and that if he didn’t comply with her demands that there was a possibility that he might be deported.’ “
Campbell has denied that she sexually harassed Stamenkovic.
"It is a horrible irony that the plaintiff's claim, that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from allegedly being sexually harassed by a woman boss, makes a mockery of real cases of PTSD experienced by American soldiers severely wounded fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," Campbell told Roll Call in 2008.
Associate Judge Stephen Glickman and Senior Judge Inez Smith Reid also heard the case.
This post has been corrected to reflect that the District of Columbia Superior Court trial judge, not the jury, awarded the fees and costs.