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Woman Awarded $120,000 in Sexual Harassment Case : Law: Supervisor made unwanted advances to D.A. investigator, jury finds. But two other claims are rejected.

October 13, 1994|BARBARA PALERMO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Superior Court jury has awarded $120,000 to an investigator for the Santa Monica branch of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, finding the woman was sexually harassed by her supervisor.

However, the jury rejected investigator Virginia Harper's claims of sex and race discrimination and retaliation by the district attorney's office.

The verdict, announced last week, falls short of the more than $1.2 million Harper demanded in the lawsuit, filed in April, 1993, against the district attorney's office and supervisor Henry Grayson, who remains supervisor of the investigators in Santa Monica. After the award was announced, attorneys on Tuesday reached an undisclosed settlement covering legal fees and other costs.

"We feel vindicated. It's a huge relief," said Santa Monica attorney Peggy Garrity, who represented Harper. "It's not about money; it's about empowerment. Virginia just wanted her voice to be heard."

Harper, 46, an investigator for 20 years, left her $70,000-a-year job on medical leave in November, 1992, claiming harassment by Grayson caused her to be transferred from Santa Monica to the district attorney's downtown office and subjected her to emotional distress and alienation from her co-workers.

After four weeks of testimony, the jury voted 11 to 1 that Grayson, 48, a 22-year veteran of the investigations unit, had sexually harassed Harper and treated her with malice and oppression.

But the panel, after deliberating a week, rejected, in a 9-3 vote, Harper's claims of retaliation by the office and could not agree on whether she had been the victim of racial discrimination.

Harper, an African American, claimed she was denied supervisory positions despite positive performance reviews and the fact that she had often served as acting supervisor in the Santa Monica branch office.

During the trial, which began Aug. 31, the defense portrayed Harper as an employee who resented her supervisor's efforts to increase her productivity.

"It's a question of who you believe," said Deputy County Counsel Dennis M. Gonzales, who defended Grayson and the district attorney's office.

"I have known Mr. Grayson for about 100 hours, and I feel very strongly that none of the allegations are true. The jury made its determination based on the approximately two hours it heard her story and Mr. Grayson's story. I believe the jury was not in a position to see what he's really like," Gonzales said.

Harper, the first female and one of the few African American investigators for the county, accused Grayson, who is also African American, of touching her inappropriately and pressuring her to go to lunch with him alone.

After she resisted his advances, Harper said, Grayson became hostile, punishing her with unwanted assignments and threatening her status in the office.

When Harper submitted her complaints in writing in August, 1992, the office conducted an investigation and concluded the allegations were unfounded.

"This verdict proves the county's investigation was a sham," attorney Garrity said. "The county had much more information than we did, but they elected to ignore her, because she's a woman and a black woman."

"I feel very disappointed in the system I worked in for so long," Harper said. "But I feel vindicated in that the jury saw the truth."

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