St. Louis Record

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Missouri woman's sexual harassment and retaliation claim against GM will remain in federal court, judge rules


By Karen Kidd | Dec 25, 2018

| MorgueFile - Alvimann

ST. LOUIS — A former General Motors employee's claim that she was fired for reporting her supervisor's sexual harassment will remain in federal court following a judge's order issued last week.

The defense's counsel had shown that the parties involved all reside in different states and that the amount in controversy was high enough to provide jurisdiction in federal court, according to an order issued by U.S. District Court Judge John A. Ross, on the bench in Missouri's Eastern District. In his seven-page memorandum and order issued Dec. 20, Judge Ross denied a motion to remand filed by the plaintiff, Aeriann Caldwell, who wanted the case returned to St. Charles County Circuit Court.

In June, Caldwell filed her complaint in the circuit court against General Motors and her former supervisor, Jerrail Johnson, claiming she had suffered Missouri Human Rights Act violations, according to the background portion of Judge Ross' memorandum and order. In August, Caldwell amended her complaint.

"Plaintiff alleges that Johnson, her supervisor, offered her more hours in exchange for sex," the memorandum and order said. "According to plaintiff, after refusing Johnson's offer, her hours began to drop."

Caldwell also claims she was fired in retaliation for reporting the alleged sexual harassment and hostile work environment.

In September, General Motors filed for removal of the case from the circuit court to federal court, claiming diversity jurisdiction because Caldwell lives in Missouri, General Motors is headquarters in Michigan and Johnson lives in Illinois. The defense's counsel also claimed that Caldwell was seeing damages greater than $75,000.

In October, Caldwell moved to have the case remanded back to the circuit court, arguing that the defense had failed to meet its burden of proving the amount in controversy and for diversity of citizenship when it failed to prove Johnson's residency.

"Plaintiff offers no evidence in reply suggesting that Johnson is a citizen of Missouri, or any state other than Illinois," the memorandum and order said. "The Court therefore finds defendants have met their burden to establish the diversity of the parties by establishing the citizenship of Johnson in Illinois."

The defense provided Caldwell's base hourly pay rate, premium for working second shift, and other back pay related data to show that the total of those amounts alone would be more than $124,000, according to the memorandum and order. Caldwell countered that the defense's data was speculative and that the amount would be closer to $64,000.

"However, plaintiff's calculation does not include an amount of damages for punitive damages or attorneys' fees, which may be considered when assessing whether the amount in controversy has been met," the memorandum and order said.

All of the calculations together proved the defense's claim that the amount in controversy was high enough to give jurisdiction to federal court, according to the memorandum and order.

"Thus, after factoring punitive damages and attorneys' fees into the analysis, the court finds Defendants have met their burden to establish the amount in controversy in this case exceeds $75,000," the memorandum and order said.

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