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Court reinstates $500,000 disability award to prison guard

Court reinstates $500,000 disability award to prison guard

A California appeals court has reinstated a $500,000 jury award to a prison guard whose stuttering was frequently mocked by his supervisor and other employees.

Augustine Caldera is a correctional officer in a state prison who stutters when he speaks, according to the July 9 ruling that was just publicized by the state appellate court in Santa Ana, California, in Augustine Caldera v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, et al.

According to the ruling, Mr. Caldera’s supervisor participated in mocking and mimicking Mr. Caldera’s stutter. The conduct reflected the prison’s culture, according to a senior prison official.

Mr. Caldera sued the California Department of Corrections and the supervisor under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act for disability harassment, failure to prevent the harassment and related claims, according to the ruling.

A jury found the harassment to be both severe and pervasive, and awarded Mr. Caldera $500,000 in noneconomic damages. The trial court found the damage award to be excessive and granted the defendants’ motion for a new trial on that issue.

A three-judge state appeals panel unanimously overturned that ruling.  “There is substantial evidence to support the jury’s factual findings,” the ruling said. 

“Caldera was subjected to unwanted harassing conduct based on his disability; the harassment was severe, the harassment was pervasive; a reasonable person in Caldera’s position would have considered the work environment to be hostile or abusive; a supervisor participated in, assisted, or encouraged the harassing conduct; the harassing conduct was a substantial factor in causing harm; the (Corrections Department) had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment; and the (Corrections Department‘s) failure to prevent the harassment was a substantial factor in causing Caldera harm,” the ruling said, in reversing the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ motion for a new trial.




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