Ex-McDonald's worker wins lawsuit over strip search
Published Saturday, October 6, 2007 10:05AM EDT
SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. - Louise Ogborn displayed no signs of disappointment after her US$200 million lawsuit against McDonald's Corp. resulted in a $6.1 million jury award for being forced to strip in a restaurant office after someone called posing as a police officer.
Her lawyer saw the verdict as a victory for their argument that the company had been negligent by failing to warn Ogborn and other employees about the caller who had already struck other McDonald's stores and other fast-food restaurants across the country.
"Louise has stood up for what happened to her and what McDonald's failed to do for three and a half years, and this jury just vindicated her completely," said her attorney, Ann Oldfather.
Ogborn, 21, was awarded $5 million in punitive damages and just over $1.1 million in compensatory damages following a four-week trial and about 13 hours of jury deliberations spread over two days.
"There is no way anyone is going to be disappointed with the thoughtfulness of this jury," Oldfather said, calling the ruling a "resounding rejection" of McDonald's claim it shouldered no fault for what happened to Ogborn in April 2004 at its restaurant about 30 kilometres south of Louisville.
Juror Kay Parrish later told reporters that the award would enable Ogborn to "live well the rest of her life" and "put all this behind her."
"There's nobody in the world worth $200 million," Parrish said.
McDonald's attorneys argued the company was not responsible for the incident.
A teary Ogborn hugged relatives after the verdict was read and later expressed relief the case was over. She said she planned to use some of the money to attend law school.
McDonald's is evaluating whether to appeal the decision, a spokesman said.
"While we are disappointed with the verdict, we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our employees and provide them with a safe and respectful workplace," said William Whitman, a spokesman for McDonald's USA.
In setting the compensatory damages, the Bullitt County Circuit Court jury put half the blame for the incident on McDonald's and the other half on the unnamed caller. Oldfather told reporters that she would argue that McDonald's should be held liable for the entire $6.1 million.
The jury also awarded $1.1 million to Donna Summers, a former McDonald's assistant store manager who also sued the fast-food chain. Summers, who had asked the jury to award her $50 million, led the strip search of Ogborn at the direction of the hoax caller.
Summers was placed on probation for a misdemeanor conviction in relation to the incident. Her former fiance, Walter Nix Jr., is serving five years in prison for sexually abusing Ogborn during the hoax call.
A Florida man, David Stewart, was acquitted last year on charges of making the hoax phone call. Police have said the calls stopped after Stewart's arrest.
On Friday, Summers expressed vindication with the verdict. "For the first time in three and a half years I can hold my head up," she said.
Ogborn, who was 18 at the time of the search, accused the company of negligence leading up to the events in which she was detained for 3� hours.
In the lawsuit, she said someone called the restaurant in Mount Washington impersonating a police officer and gave a description of a young, female employee, accusing her of stealing from a customer. The caller instructed an employee to strip search the woman, according to testimony.
Ogborn was forced to undress, endure a strip search, and to perform sexual acts, the lawsuit said. The events were captured on surveillance video, which was shown to jurors during the trial.
Summers and Kim Dockery, a McDonald's assistant manager, also were named as defendants in Ogborn's suit, but the jury ruled they did not have to pay any damages. Oldfather said that Summers and Dockery were duped by the hoax caller, as other fast-food restaurant managers across the country had been.
"Everybody is still suffering because of this, and now maybe McDonald's will suffer a little bit in the pocketbook," Oldfather said.