NEW PORT RICHEY — Calvin Young, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, played arcade games with his kids Monday and basked in the glow of victory, justice and $85,000.
The 40-year-old New Port Richey man won the money in a sexual harassment lawsuit against his former employer, the Golden Corral restaurant on U.S. 19. When Young worked there for about a month in 2006, he claimed that two gay male co-workers pestered him on a near-daily basis with lewd remarks and pressed up against his body, forcing him into a "sandwich."
When he complained to two managers, he said, they did nothing about it.
He and three other restaurant employees — Kenneth Vaughn, Dawn Haschalk and Pamela Gause — filed suit in January 2008 against Sunny Corral, the Dallas-based franchise owner. Young claimed that he was sexually harassed and fired in retaliation for complaining about it. He filed under the Florida Whistle-blower's Act, which protects people who object to something unlawful in the workplace and are fired for the objection.
The jury sided with Young on all three counts, awarding him $20,000 in back pay, $5,000 for pain and suffering and $60,000 in punitive damages against Sunny Corral. The company will also have to pay Young's more than $150,000 attorney's fees. The other cases are pending.
"I'm so glad that justice prevailed," Young said in an interview Monday. "It's so easy to defend a case instead of prove it."
Not an easy case
It wasn't an easy victory. The trial took all week, with both sides leveling blistering, often personal attacks. "Poor Calvin Young" was the defense attorneys' sarcastic label for him. They said his claim was an embellishment of normal guy talk.
The jury deliberated for eight nail-biting hours Friday before returning the verdict, taking just one break and never asking for dinner.
Young didn't always appear the sympathetic plaintiff. He's handsome and healthy-looking, bearing no visible scars of the incidents at the restaurant. He's father to eight children — four from his first marriage, four from his second — and has a history of evictions. He hasn't held a regular job in the more than two years since filing the lawsuit, though he disputes the characterization that he's been idle in that time.
He has been working toward an insurance license, he said, and had a winter-time job for an event production company in Orlando.
"I've been studying and taking care of my kids," he said.
A native of Indiana, he dropped out of school in 11th grade. He came to Florida about 18 years ago. The Golden Corral job, he thought, was his golden opportunity.
He was hired on as a manager in training with the hope of rising to a $75,000-a-year general manager's job. He said he was "soaring" in his job, earning high marks for his performance.
But the harassment, which usually occurred near a drink station, ate at him.
"You can't really say anything. You have to trudge through it," he said. "I knew I had the opportunity of my life and Sunny Corral was going to take it away. My hands were so tied."
It occurred to him that he could handle the problem physically, but thought better of it.
"What was I supposed to do really, beat everybody up?" he said.
Worries about claim
So he went to management. Soon, he said, he was fired for job performance issues. Defense attorneys said during the trial he was frequently late for work.
Young is not blind to the easy summation of his case: guy works in a restaurant for a month, endures some razzing, files lawsuit, waits for payday.
He's not a litigious person. Once, after a car accident, he said he called the other driver's insurance company and asked them to pay for his MRI rather than take them to court.
Neither is he homophobic, he said, but he worried his claim would come across as a straight guy's paranoia.
Throughout the case, he said, he felt like the one being accused.
Now, he feels like the hero.
"I stepped up for everybody's rights. Nobody else wanted to do it," he said.
"I fought the fight and I won it.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.