SHEPHERDSVILLE Ky. A Bullitt County, Ky., jury has decided against McDonald’s Corp. in a negligence lawsuit filed by an ex-employee who was strip-searched and sexually harassed in a unit as part of a hoax. Plaintiff Louise Ogborn was awarded $5 million in punitive damages and $1.1 million in compensatory payments.
McDonald’s said in a statement that it is evaluating an appeal and other legal options, and reasserted that it had no role in the highly publicized April 2004 event.
“As we’ve stated previously, this malicious hoax was perpetrated by individuals who do not represent our brand,” McDonald’s said in the statement. “What happened to Louise Ogborn was wrong, and should never happen to anyone. While we are disappointed with the verdict, we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our employees and provide them with a safe and respectful workplace.”
Ogborn had been seeking $200 million in damages.
The jury agreed with Ogborn that McDonald’s was negligent in failing to warn her and other employees about calls that had been made to some 40 McDonald’s and other quick-service restaurants by a man pretending to be a police officer. In the situation involving Ogborn, he called the Mount Washington, Ky., unit where she worked and asserted that a woman fitting Ogborn’s description had stolen a customer’s purse and should be strip-searched.
Former unit assistant manager Donna Summers did as the caller directed, with participation from her former fiance, Walter Nix Jr. Ogborn, who was 18 at the time, was reportedly strip-searched and forced to perform sexual acts for more than three hours in the store’s back office. The actions were recorded on a surveillance video.
Prior to the lawsuit between Ogborn and McDonald’s, Summers had been placed on probation for a misdemeanor conviction stemming from the incident. Nix currently is serving a five-year prison sentence for sexually abusing Ogborn.
Although the jury divided blame equally between McDonald’s and the hoax caller, a Florida man arrested for making the call was acquitted last summer. Authorities noted that the calls ceased after the suspect was arrested.
At the outset of the four-week trial, McDonald's was ordered to pay Ogborn's discovery costs when the company was found to have withheld evidence from her by not acknowledging four similar hoaxes at its restaurants until August, contrary to a court-issued directive in May. Lawsuits were filed against the company in three of those four other incidents.