Smithfield's Founder Loses $1.15M Verdict in Sex Harassment Case
Posted October 4, 2007 4:40 p.m. EDT
Updated October 4, 2007 10:54 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A jury Thursday ordered the founder of the Smithfield's Chicken 'n Bar-B-Q chain to pay $1.15 million to a male former employee who had sued him for sexual harassment.
Jurors deliberated for more than a day before finding that chief executive Gregory Moore sexually harassed his former assistant, Jason Hallaman, and then fired him in 2002 when Hallaman rebuffed sexual advances from Moore.
They awarded Hallaman $750,000 in compensatory damages for loss of employment and an additional $400,000 on the grounds of malicious prosecution because Moore brought criminal charges against him.
Jurors spent much of Wednesday weighing testimony and asked Thursday morning for Superior Court Judge Abe Jones to instruct them again on state law regarding monetary damages.
Trial attorney Hart Miles, who has practiced in Wake County for more than a decade, said that amount is unusually high, because Wake jurors tend to be conservative.
"There must have been some very compelling evidence that led the jury to come to this decision," Miles said.
"It's got to be very embarrassing for a man to come forward with a sexual discrimination case against another man," he continued, "so that may have been one of the factors the jury considered in determining whether this was a credible witness or not."
Hallaman has also asked for punitive damages, and attorneys will argue that part of the case Friday morning.
In addition, the jury decided a counter-suit in which Moore accused Hallaman of trespassing and taking furniture that belonged to Moore. They awarded Moore a dollar in damages.
"What the community is saying this type of behavior, or at least the behavior that was presented in this particular case, isn't going to be tolerated in Wake County," Miles said.
Several other former Smithfield's employees testified during the two-week trial that they also rejected Moore's overtures and were subsequently fired.
Moore tearfully acknowledged to jurors last Friday that he is bisexual, but he denied doing anything wrong.
Moore's attorneys said Hallaman was fired because of poor job performance and because he forged Moore's name on a check. Hallaman alleged Moore filed criminal charges for that allegation against him to get revenge.
Other defense witnesses questioned the credibility of Hallaman and the other former employees.
Moore opened the first Smithfield's restaurant in 1980 and is the chief executive of Smithfield Management Corp., which operates the chain of 32 restaurants across eastern North Carolina.
Two other former Smithfield's employees, both men, also filed sexual harassment lawsuits against Moore. One suit was settled, and the second is pending.