Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hesse v. Missouri Department of Corrections

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

September 19, 2017

DEBRA HESSE, Respondent,
v.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable Wesley B. Powell, Judge

          Before Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge Presiding, Karen King Mitchell, Judge

          ANTHONY REX GABBERT, JUDGE

         The Department of Corrections ("DOC") appeals from a jury verdict in favor of Debra Hesse ("Hesse") on a gender harassment claim and a retaliation claim. Both claims were made pursuant to the Missouri Human Rights Act, Sections 213.010-213.037.[1] Appellant raises four points on appeal. Point I alleges the trial court erred in combining the harassment and retaliation claims into one verdict form; Point II alleges the trial court erred in admitting improper "me too" evidence; Point III alleges error in the award of unreasonable attorney fees to Respondent's counsel; Point IV alleges error in awarding non-recoverable litigation expenses. We affirm.

          Background

         Hesse claimed she suffered gender harassment and retaliation during her employment at the Tipton Correctional Center ("TCC") and the Kansas City Reentry Center ("KCRC"), [2] both operated by the DOC. The record documents several instances of harassment and retaliation towards Hesse and other female employees at both the TCC and KCRC. These claims were corroborated by Hesse's co-workers, Barbara Payne at TCC and Tina Gallego and Clarissa Fischer at KCRC. Following post-trial motions, the trial court issued its judgment in favor of Hesse and awarded Hesse: $500, 000 in actual damages; $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages; $463, 323.75 in attorney fees; $1, 389.15 in litigation expenses; and $5, 168.75 in other court costs.

         Point I

         In its first point, the DOC argues the trial court erred in the use of Verdict Form A, which allowed the court to package the harassment and retaliation claims in one verdict form, when separate forms should have been issued. "When a party contends that the verdict form is confusing or misleading, the trial court resolves the issue in the exercise of its discretion." Pickel v. Gaskin, 202 S.W.3d 630, 635 (Mo. App. 2006) (citation and quotes omitted). "Because the trial court is in the best position to evaluate the effect of the verdict form, we will not disturb the decision of the trial court absent an abuse of discretion." Id. "The party claiming prejudicial error must show that the offending instruction misdirected, misled or confused the jury." Id. "The test of correctness of an instruction is how the instruction will naturally be understood by the average juror, " whom "should be credited with ordinary intelligence, common sense, and an average understanding of the English language." Marion v. Marcus, 199 S.W.3d 887, 895 (Mo. App. 2006) (quotes and citations omitted). We find the trial court did not err by issuing the single verdict form.

Verdict Form A, as completed by the jury, reads:
On the claim of plaintiff Debra Hesse for compensatory damages against defendant Missouri Department of Corrections for harassment based on gender, we, the undersigned jurors, find in favor of: Plaintiff Debra Hesse.
On the claim of plaintiff Debra Hesse for compensatory damages against defendant Missouri Department of Corrections for retaliation, we, the undersigned jurors, find in favor of: Plaintiff Debra Hesse.
Note: Complete the following paragraph only if one or both of the above findings is in favor of plaintiff Debra Hesse
We, the undersigned jurors, assess the compensatory damages of plaintiff Debra Hesse at $500, 000 (stating the amount).

         These instructions clearly gave jurors the option of finding for either party on either claim, and the "Note" preceding the award amount provides for compensatory damages even if jurors found for Hesse on only one count. The DOC fails to show how a juror of "ordinary intelligence" would be misled into believing he or she was required to find for Hesse on both counts to award compensatory damages. In fact, the DOC might have benefitted from the single verdict form, which prevented overlapping or duplicative damages arising from the related ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.