Jurors who ruled that a woman was wrongly fired from soul singer James Brown’s company awarded her $40,000 in damages Wednesday – about a year’s salary in the job. The jury earlier rejected the woman’s claim of sexual harassment by Brown. Its award was for compensatory damages; no punitive damages were given.
“We’re extremely happy,” Brown’s attorney, Debra Opri, said after the award was announced. The 68-year-old “godfather of soul” was not in court.
Lisa Ross Agbalaya, who was West Coast president of James Brown Enterprises, had sued Brown for $1 million, claiming sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful firing and infliction of emotional distress.
Agbalaya claimed Brown grabbed her by the hips and pulled her toward him when she visited his Georgia home in 1999. She said she lost her job of seven years for rebuffing his advances.
The singer testified that he never subjected her to any unwanted sexual overtures. As for the firing, he said Agbalaya was laid off after he closed his West Coast office because it wasn’t making money.
Agbalaya’s attorney, Shelly McMillan, contended that the two-person office was closed just three days after the lawsuit was filed, but it had been relocated only four months earlier.
“You don’t spend the amount of time to open an office again and less than six months later shut down the operation,” McMillan said outside court.
Agbalaya, a 36-year-old mother of three, testified Tuesday that she felt she had become a burden to her family after losing her job.
McMillan said Agbalaya should be paid at least six times the $39,000 a year she had earned in the job.
Opri said Agbalaya deserved no more than a week’s pay.
“Why not pay her kids through college? That’s really what she’s asking you to do,” Opri told the jury.