Otto May of Cherry Valley was awarded $4.2 million in total damages Thursday from Chrysler Group LLC by a federal jury who believed the company did not do enough to stop years of religious and ethnic harassment.
The 60-year-old May filed the lawsuit against Chrysler in 2002. He is a pipe fitter at the company’s Belvidere assembly plant and has worked for Chrysler for nearly 22 years.
“I’m glad the jury believed me,” May said minutes after the verdict was read. “That’s all I really wanted — for them to believe that it happened.”
May is a Cuban-born jew the Register Star first wrote about in 2005. He said in his suit that he took abuse for years from co-workers, including being called an “import from Cuba,” having his tires shredded by homemade spikes and having messages such as “Kill Jew. Heil Hitler” scribbled on his locker.
His case took several twists along the way. One of his claims was dismissed in 2007. That same year his first attorney died. Karen Doran of Wheaton and Deanne Medina of Oak Park then took on his case.
In 2009, the case was continued while Chrysler reorganized in bankruptcy. He also turned down offers to settle before the week-long trial.
“There were a lot of times I felt like throwing in the towel, but my faith in God and how I was brought up to know right from wrong kept me going,” May said.
The jury awarded May $709,000 in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.
The jury award may be the second largest award in Winnebago County history. Back in 2000, a Winnebago County jury awarded a couple $3.8 million in a medical malpractice case. The largest local award was a $10.23 million verdict to a family whose daughter was born with brain damage and cerebral palsy, the result, the jury found, of inappropriate care just before the birth.