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Gay New York Guard Wins $1.5 Million Harassment Award

On July 18, 2000, a gay Nassau County, NY jail guard won $1.55 million in damages after a federal jury agreed that his supervisors failed to intervene when his coworkers repeatedly tormented and harassed him due to his sexual orientation.

The verdict, reached after a threeweek trial in Federal District Court in Uniondale, NY, found that guard James Manning, 36 suffered daily slurs and indignities that continued for the three years that he worked at the jail. The judgment is thought to be only the second in New York State where a government has been found liable for failure to stop harassment of a gay employee. The jury found that the Nassau County Sheriff's Department "has a custom and practice of discriminating against homosexuals and that jail officials "were deliberately indifferent" to Manning's constitutional right to be free from sexual orientation discrimination.

At trial, Manning said his coworkers called him offensive names and hung photographic collages and cartoons on the visiting room walls depicting him as a pedophile, a transsexual and someone who engaged in beastiality. Not only did Manning's supervisor's fail to stop the harassment once being notified of it, Manning said, but they also watched and laughed as it took place.

The jury took only five hours to render its verdict. Nassaus County lawyer Paul F. Millus issued a statement saying the verdict was incorrect and the county is considering an appeal.

But Lenard Leeds, one of Manning's lawyers, disagrees. "There is solid precedent here," he said. "Today's award is three times greater than the last." Leeds' reference was to a recent case where a federal jury ordered Nassau County to pay $500,000 in damages to a gay county police officer he represented.

The award is a blow to the county, which is struggling to cut millions from its budget. The county paid the earlier award to the police officer but only after the officer's lawyer froze $1 million in county assets.

Source: The New York Times

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Related legal case

Manning v. _____