A federal jury has handed down an $11.9 million verdict in favor of an Indianola woman who said she was called a "whore" and other vulgar names while an employee of a Chinese-owned toy distribution company that has operations in the city.

 

In all, five women filed harassment claims against Manley Toys Ltd. and affiliated companies in 2010 over what they said were years of verbal abuse while working for the company.

 

In the case of Danielle Rennenger, the federal jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages that were determined solely by the jury, based on evidence presented at trial. Rennenger could not specify punitive damages in the lawsuit. The jury also awarded $1.8 million for past and future emotional distress and nearly $83,000 in lost wages.

 

A federal trial for another plaintiff is scheduled for October.

 

Three women also have filed a lawsuit in Warren County District Court. In 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state's civil rights act did not provide for awarding punitive damages and remanded their cases for further proceedings.

 

Rennenger's lawsuit said the harassment and abuse started shortly after she was hired in 2007 as a customer-service representative.

 

Her direct supervisor, Tim Downey, and a co-worker, Steffen Hampton, created a hostile work environment with vulgar and harassing remarks as well as gestures and physical advances toward Rennenger and other women, according to the lawsuit. It states that at one point, Downey grabbed Rennenger's head and forced it into his crotch. Downey has not been with the company since 2008.

 

"Danielle tried to complain and get them to stop, but Downey basically told her that Hong Kong, referring to the owners, doesn't care about women," according to a release from the Newkirk Zwagerman law firm, which represents Rennenger and other plaintiffs.

 

U.S. District Judge James Gritzner said in an Aug. 3 ruling, "Fundamentally, we know that there's really no dispute about what happened to Ms. Rennenger in terms of the call center and the behavior of people in the call center. It also seems rather clear in this record that it was very difficult for employees there to know how to proceed in the event that their supervisor was actually the harasser."

 

After the lawsuits were filed five years ago, Manley Toys created multiple companies, apparently in an effort to avoid liability, according to Rennenger's lawyers.

 

Gritzner agreed.

 

"And there is a very complex series of positions that the various companies have taken here absolutely contradictory of one another in terms of their relationship and how they were set up. Depending upon which executive you talk to, you get a completely different version of how the call center was set up and who employed those people. In the process of looking at the entire picture of this case, there is substantial evidence of active avoidance of liability," he said in the Aug. 3 ruling.

 

An attorney for Manley Toys could not be reached for comment.