After sorting through a week of testimony about office politics and nude photographs, a jury decided Tuesday that a Spokane Valley mining company owes nothing to a former worker who sued the firm for wrongful termination.
N.A. Degerstrom Inc. did not fire former safety worker Matthew Failing in 1994 in retaliation for criticizing unsavory photography sessions in the company basement, the jury found.
Some of the women in those sessions were company employees, including Failing’s wife.
The central figures in the civil suit - 36-year-old Failing and 72-year-old company owner Neal Degerstrom - were not present in Spokane County Superior Court when the verdict was read.
“It was a very tough case to sit through,” said juror Sherlyn Cezera. “Both sides were not likable. Both of them had deep-seated problems.”
“It was a very messy affair,” Cezera said of the tangled web that led to the lawsuit, filed early last year.
Failing was the company’s assistant safety director. Officials said he was fired because he became unproductive and hostile to others after a bitter divorce.
Failing maintained he was fired because he complained about Degerstrom’s after-hours photo sessions. He learned that women earned $100 an hour for posing either nude or in lingerie.
Degerstrom said he has taken such photos for 20 years as a hobby, but stopped more than a year ago. He said he never sold the pictures or scheduled sessions during work hours.
Failing sued both the company and Degerstrom for damages based on lost earnings.
On Monday, Judge Paul Bastine dismissed the claim against Degerstrom, finding no evidence showing he had a hand in Failing’s dismissal.
Because of testimony about the photo sessions and Degerstrom’s alleged organizing of contests featuring nude women, jurors struggled in reaching the verdict.
Cezera and others said they didn’t want to seem approving of Degerstrom’s behavior and attitudes toward women.
“We worried over that for a while, but then we decided to focus on the key legal questions,” said jury foreman Tom Stuart.
Jurors cited the fact that Failing never filed written complaints about sexual harassment of female employees.
“What we saw instead was a very bitter battle caused by a nasty divorce,” said one juror who didn’t want his name used. “It made you glad you didn’t work in that office.”
The jury voted 10-2 in the company’s favor. A civil trial does not require a unanimous verdict.