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Fayette woman wins $13M discrimination lawsuit

Mary Pickels
| Monday, April 20, 2015, 10:24 p.m.

A Fayette County woman who filed a federal lawsuit alleging employment discrimination was awarded more than $13 million during a jury trial Friday.

Her lead attorney believes the award might be the largest in that category in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The jury of five women and three men handed down the verdict in favor of Sandra Robertson, 48, a retired Air Force master sergeant, and against Hunter Panels LLC and parent company Carlisle Construction Materials Inc., manufacturer of insulation panels for construction.

Pittsburgh civil rights attorney Timothy P. O'Brien and employment lawyer Maureen Davison-Welling represented Robertson in the suit, filed in 2013, a year after Robertson said she was fired.

Messages left with the companies' corporate communications office and defense attorney Maria Danaher were not returned Monday.

Robertson, a resident of German, said she was the sole female supervisor at Hunter's Smithfield plant.

She worked for the company for more than five years, she said on Monday, and was promoted to the position of shipping supervisor within four months of being hired.

In her suit, she claimed she was subjected to a hostile work environment, discriminated against because of her sex and retaliated against when she complained.

“It was a progressive sort of harassment (that lasted) the whole time I was there,” Robertson said.

She said the harassment came from her own colleagues, not those she supervised.

Profanity was directed at her by her colleagues in front of management staff, she said.

At one point, she said, she was ordered to see a therapist for an “anger management problem” or face immediate termination.

Her attorneys said the therapist reported back to her employer that the issue was one of an “assertive woman” not fitting the “gender stereotypes” at her place of employment.

The jury's decision to award nearly $1 million in compensatory damages and $12.5 million in punitive damages was reached on Friday and announced on Monday, O'Brien said.

Court records showed that the jury agreed that Robertson's former employers “acted with malice or reckless indifference to (her) federally and state-protected rights.”

“I was not seeking a dollar amount. I didn't want them to ever do it again. I was very surprised, and very pleased with my attorneys and all of their work,” Robertson said.

She intends to ask the court to order the defendants to pay her attorneys' fees as well, according to O'Brien.

The trial's outcome sends “an unambiguous message that corporations are not above the law and will be held to account for unlawful discrimination and retaliation against employees who report it,” O'Brien said.

Asked if he expected an appeal of the verdict, O'Brien said that always is a post-trial option.

“We hope they got the jury's message and promptly make amends,” he said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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