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Judge to decide damages award in fish company case

A judge will decide damages in a high-profile workplace sexual harassment after a hearing in Two Harbors last week.

In August, Sixth District Judge Michael Cuzzo issued his decision in the case of three women who brought suit against their former employer, Two Harbors Fish Co., owned by Brian Zapolski.  The Judge found the defendant had violated Minnesota law by creating a hostile work environment through repeated acts of sexual harassment toward Jaime Rasmussen, Jennifer Moyer and Kathe Reinhold.

The case, which made its way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, was returned to District Court so that Cuzzo could determine the appropriate amount of damages to be awarded. A scheduling hearing was set for Thursday in Two Harbors. 

Rasmussen and the plaintiffs' attorney Thomas Andrew, were in the courtroom, but in a twist, Zapolski and his attorney Joseph Roby were not. According to court documents prepared by Andrew, Zapolski seemed willing to let the chips fall.

"Defendants were not present having informed the court they agree to let the damage phase of the case proceed without opposition and acknowledge a money judgment will be entered against them, including punitive damages for each plaintiff of $25,000," the documents state.  

That amount appears to be just the beginning. Andrew and the plaintiffs are asking the court to award a total of $332,751.83 in compensatory and punitive damages, court and attorney fees.

Proposed compensatory damages were assessed at $49,382 for Rasmussen, based on three years of front pay (the difference between what she now makes and what she would have made had she remained employed by Zapolski) and back pay, which may be subject to a multiplier of three according to Minnesota law. Further, the proposal asks that an additional $50,000 be awarded to her for mental anguish and suffering.

If granted, Rasmussen would receive the highest compensatory damage award of the three plaintiffs. Total compensatory damages proposed for Kathe Reinhold would be $53,480 and $49,240 for Jennifer Moyer.

The defendants are also asking for the award of attorney's fees.

Cuzzo has 90 days to make his decision.