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Judge reduces jury award in Petaluma card room sexual harassment case

A Sonoma County judge has reduced a jury award of more than $2 million to a former dealer at a Petaluma card room who was sexually harassed by her supervisor and retaliated against when she reported the abuse.

Judge Mark Tansil reduced the punitive damages portion of the award against The 101 Casino to $750,000, half of what the 10-woman, two-man jury unanimously awarded victim Shannen De La Cruz in August.

The jury calculated nearly $516,000 in past and future damages for the harassment and retaliation, plus an additional $1.5 million in punitive damages against the companies that own and operate the Petaluma card room.

In his ruling, Tansil rejected the defendants' request for a new trial, but determined that "the jury clearly should have reached a different verdict as to the amount of punitive damages."

He said the evidence "absolutely supports a jury finding that the defendants engaged in prolonged, reprehensible conduct justifying an award of punitive damages."

But, Tansil decided, the total was excessive compared to the harm suffered. Judges have the option of reducing jury awards if they determine they are unwarranted or disproportionate.

Tansil said De La Cruz suffered emotional distress, not physical injury, did not seek medical or psychological treatment and returned to comparable work a few months after she was fired from the 101 Casino.

The amount of damages used to punish the card room operators should be consistent with the damage done to De La Cruz alone, he said, not other female employees who testified about similar harassment and retaliation. He said their testimony "probably inflated the amount."

But one of De La Cruz's attorneys, Candace Clipner of Santa Rosa, said several jurors she spoke with after the trial contradicted that assessment.

"They said their verdict was solely based on what happened to Shannen," she said.

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