O’Dell v. Wright

Rebecca Wright was a waitress at Arlington Steakhouse, Inc. for four months.  She alleged that during this time, her supervisor, Christopher O’Dell, made lewd sexual comments to her, touched her in sexual ways that she found offensive, and created a hostile work environment by his 13.  Specifically, Ms. Wright alleged O’Dell put his fingers down her blouse and in her pants and brushed up against her, offered to pay her for oral sex, verbally degraded her and the other waitresses, and made inappropriate comments about her physical appearance.  The jury trial resulted in a verdict for Ms. Wright on all claims, finding O’Dell assaulted her, Ms. Wright was constructively discharged, and was subjected to 13.  The jury award was for $175,000 in mental anguish damages for assault and $250,000 in mental anguish damages for 13.  O’Dell appealed this decision on many grounds, one of which was that the award of damages was unsupported and violated the statutory cap on damages for employers with less than 500 employees.  The appellate court affirmed, recognizing that mental anguish damages require a plaintiff introduce “direct evidence of the nature, duration, and severity of her mental anguish, thus establishing that there was a substantial disruption of her daily routine.”  The requirement is a “high degree of mental pain and distress” and must be more than “mere worry, anxiety, vexation, embarrassment or anger.”  Direct evidence must be shown of this and the evidence shown must justify the amount awarded to be affirmed on appeal.  The court found Ms. Wright presented sufficient evidence at the trial since she experienced severe anxiety, clenched her jaw, held her breath, at times felt paralyzed and nauseous, and had nightmares of her attacker, O’Dell.  In addition, the appellate court found the amount was fair and reasonable since the jury considered the “disruption in her life and personal toll taken by the events surrounding the assault and 13.”  The court also found that the statutory cap provided in Texas Labor Code Section 21.2585 (capping damages based on the size of the employer) did not apply because the burden was on the defendant to plead and prove this defense, it was not an automatic cap.

Year 

2010

Avon Center work product 

ID 

424