Nurse who found photo of noose on locker gets $3.8M payout
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A nurse who found a photo of hangman's noose taped to her locker at a Hawaii hospital has been awarded a $3.8 million payout.
A Circuit Court jury on Wednesday awarded the money, one of the largest damage awards in state history.
Ellen Harris was a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at the Queen's Medical Center when she reported that patient safety was being jeopardized.
She then became the target of racial threats, she said.
She filed suit in November 2011, alleging that a note in her work mailbox used the "N" word against her.
On Christmas Eve that same year, she said, someone taped a photo of a hangman's noose on her work locker.
"After I got the noose, I said I just wasn't going to go back anymore," said Harris, who is African-American.
Harris, who grew up in Mississippi, said she was fearful of going back to the job she had loved.
"It was kind of that fear after that, especially not knowing exactly who did it, because no one admitted to doing it," she said.
Her attorney, Carl Varady, said the hospital also "never apologized, never admitted liability, tried to degrade and criticize and make Ellen out to be a liar."
Varady also said Harris' supervisors at the hospital tried to downplay the incidents.
The trial for the lawsuit lasted five weeks.
It took the jury less than a day to award Harris $630,000 for emotional distress, and another $3.2 million in punitive damages.
Cedric Yamanaka, director of corporate communications for the Queen's Health Systems, said in a statement: "We are very disappointed in today's verdict and will be filing an appeal. Because this is pending litigation, we will not comment further."
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