This is an action to recover damages for alleged sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and state law. Plaintiff Sharon Karibian brought suit against the alleged perpetrator, Mark Urban; against Columbia University, the former employer of Karibian and Urban; and against John Borden, a vice president at Columbia. The action has been tried. The jury returned its verdict on February 13, 1996, and certain of the parties have made post-trial motions.
The Issues At Trial
The issues in the case were narrowed somewhat during trial, leaving the following claims of Karibian to be decided some by the jury and some by the court, as will be described.
(1) Karibian claimed that Urban sexually harassed her by engaging in unwelcome sexual activities with Karibian and indicating to her that she would receive employment advantages if she submitted and disadvantages in her employment if she did not. Karibian claimed that she in fact was benefitted in her employment while submitting to Urban's sexual demands and suffered detriment after she discontinued the relationship. Karibian also claimed that Urban retaliated against her because she complained to Columbia.
(2) Although it was conceded that Urban was not personally liable under Title VII, Karibian claimed that Urban was liable under the New York Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 296, both for his sexual harassment and his retaliation against Karibian for complaining.
(3) Karibian claimed that Columbia was liable under both Title VII and the New York Human Rights Law because Columbia was responsible for the sexual harassment and retaliation committed by Urban, and because it retaliated against her for complaining and failed to take reasonable investigative and remedial measures.
(4) Karibian claimed that Borden was liable under the New York Human Rights Law because he retaliated against Karibian for complaining and failed to take reasonable investigative and remedial measures.
Appropriate questions were submitted to the jury. In response, the jury found that Urban did not commit sexual harassment against Karibian, nor did he retaliate against Karibian for making a complaint. The jury further found that neither Borden nor Columbia retaliated against Karibian for complaining. The jury found that Borden did not fail to take reasonable investigative and remedial measures. However, the jury found that Columbia did fail to take reasonable investigative and remedial measures.
As will be described more hilly at a later point, it was conceded that, under the particular circumstances of this case, if Urban was found to have committed sexual harassment, Columbia would be automatically liable under Title VII. This was one of the rulings in an earlier appeal in the present case. Karibian v. Columbia University, 14 F.3d 773, 780 (2d Cir. 1994). However, there was disagreement about whether this would be the case under the New York Human Rights Law. Columbia contended that it would be liable under the Human Rights Law only if it had notice of Urban's wrongdoing and acquiesced in or condoned it. In order to take into account Columbia's position, the jury was asked whether Columbia had notice of, and acquiesced in or condoned, sexual harassment by Urban. Despite the fact that the jury answered the question about Urban's sexual harassment in the negative, the jury answered the question about Columbia's notice of and acquiescence in or condoning of Urban's sexual harassment in the affirmative. This seeming contradiction was cleared up when the jury answered a supplemental question and indicated that its answer to Question 2 meant that it found that Columbia had notice of a complaint by Karibian beginning at the date referred to. Thus the jury did not intend to state that Columbia had notice of actual sexual harassment by Urban, but only notice of Karibian's then version, which the jury has now rejected based on the evidence at trial.
The following are the questions addressed to the jury and the jury's answers:
1. Do you find that Urban committed sexual harassment against Karibian?