ASSESSMENT OF JUROR REASONING FOR COMPENSATORY DAMAGE AWARD ALLOCATION IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT CASES
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Sexual harassment in the workplace is quite common and litigation based on those claims can be controversial. The number of sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has risen significantly over the past two decades, with nearly 12,000 charges filed in the year 2010 (EEOC, 1997-2010). After a determination of liability has been made, jurors are responsible for determining whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to receive compensation for the psychological injuries and economic losses he or she experienced as a result of the sexual harassment (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1991). Although a significant amount of research has been conducted on factors that impact juror liability decisions in sexual harassment cases (e.g. Gutek et al., 1999; Levett & Kovera, 2009), few researchers have examined the nature of juror decision-making with regard to compensatory damage awards in a sexual harassment litigation context (Cass, Levett, & Kovera, 2010; Cass & Kovera, 2002). It is common lore among attorneys that jurors who are able to empathize with the plaintiff will award higher monetary damages. As such, plaintiffs’ attorneys often choose jurors in the voir dire process who share similar experiences with the plaintiff as it relates to the subject matter of the case. However, researchers have yet to explore how juror characteristics such as juror empathy and juror attitudes toward sexual harassment influence compensatory damage award allocation in these cases. Given the paucity of research in this area in addition to the significant implications of juror decision making in this context, it is important to examine the manner in which jurors determine the amount of compensatory damages they assign to a plaintiff. Against this background and addressing limitations of previous research, the aims of the present study were to (a) expand on previous research by further examining how jurors approach determining compensatory damages for emotional distress and (b) test the meditational role of juror empathy in the relation between juror attitudes toward sexual harassment and compensatory damage award amount. Specifically, 315 participants were recruited from a large Southwestern university to read a mock sexual harassment case scenario and subsequently complete a post-case questionnaire in which they were asked to assign a monetary value to the plaintiff’s emotional distress and report on which factors they employed to arrive at their damage award. The link between juror empathy, juror attitudes toward sexual harassment (as measured by the Sexual Harassment Attitudes Scale), and compensatory damage awards was evaluated using regression analyses, controlling for study condition. Results of the significant partial mediation were discussed.