In Taylor v. Nabors Drilling, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Jan. 13, 2014), the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Six) affirmed the ruling of the Ventura County Superior Court (Judge Bysshe) denying defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding a jury verdict and awarding attorneys’ fees. The appellate court also reduced, however, the plaintiff’s economic damages award due to insufficient evidence.
Plaintiff, who worked as a “floorhand” on an oil rig, sued his employer for, among other causes of action, same-sex harassment based on a hostile work environment created by his co-workers and supervisors. At trial, the jury found in favor of the Plaintiff, awarding $160,000 ($10,000 for past economic loss and $150,000 for past noneconomic loss). The court also awarded attorney’s fees of $680,520. The Defendant then filed a motion requesting that the court enter judgment in its favor (i.e. set aside the jury’s verdict) on the ground that the evidence presented was insufficient to show that plaintiff was harassed because of his sex and/or perceived sexual orientation and because the special verdict form used by the jury was defective. The court denied the motion and the employer appealed. On appeal, the defendant also challenged the jury’s damage award and the court’s attorney’s fees award.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, finding that plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. Specifically, the court rejected defendant’s argument that Plaintiff had not shown that the alleged harassment of him was motivated by sexual desire. The court also found that, even if the special verdict form on which the jury’s verdict was based had been defective, defendant waived its right to contest it: “failure to object to a verdict before the discharge of a jury and to request clarification or further deliberation precludes a party from later questioning the validity of that verdict if the alleged defect was apparent at the time the verdict was rendered and could have been corrected.” The appellate court did, however, eliminate the jury’s award of $10,000 for past economic loss because the jury had determined that plaintiff’s discharge was legal.