State Supreme Court upholds $ 250,000 jury prize in racial harassment case

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a Loudoun County Circuit Court jury demanding that a Northern Virginia business owner pay his former contractor $ 250,000 in damages for racial harassment and threatening statements.

Northern Virginia Kitchen Bath & Basement owner John Powell hired black man William Ellis in May 2017 as an independent contractor, according to court documents. Ellis began working on a homeowner’s basement bathroom in July of that year, but a dispute soon led Powell and the homeowner to terminate the contract. When Ellis continued to work on the owner’s bathroom, Powell found out and left voicemail messages from Ellis in which he said that Ellis had made “a … uh move” and that “we didn’t. let’s not play that shit here in Virginia, boy. “

According to court documents, Powell told Ellis he hired him because of his color and said Ellis “shot the same – black people here are doing” and he “messed it up. for the next black man “. Court documents also indicate that Powell told Ellis he had “motorcycle clubs and gangs around.”

According to court documents, Ellis never called the police, contacted a court or sought legal advice after listening to the voicemail messages.

At trial, Ellis said he felt “a little scared” and had “a sense of nervousness” when he saw a motorcycle on the road. He also said he changed his work schedule so it didn’t take the same roads he thought Powell and his associates could take.

When the owner posted Powell’s posts on social media and business review websites, Powell brought a lawsuit against the owner and Ellis for libel and conspiracy to harm a business enterprise. Ellis then filed a counterclaim alleging racist harassment and harassment.

A jury, following a three-day trial in October 2019, subsequently dismissed Powell’s case with prejudice and ordered him to pay Ellis $ 100,000 in compensatory damages and $ 150,000 in punitive damages. Powell appealed, seeking to overturn Judge Jeanette A. Irby’s ruling that the evidence in the case supported the jury’s verdict.

On April 15, the Virginia Supreme Court issued a 12-page opinion that found the evidence in the case was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict because Ellis felt intimidated, harassed, threatened and humiliated.

About Jessica J. Bass

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