By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal jury on Monday ordered the chief executive officer of a Manhattan investment firm to pay $18 million in damages to a former employee for sexual harassment and defamation.
Benjamin Wey, who heads up New York Global Group, was accused of using his power to coerce Hanna Bouveng, 25, into having sex, firing her when she refused further advances and then ruining her reputation with a series of offensive blog posts that called her, among other things, a “street walker.”
The two-week civil trial in New York drew lurid headlines from the city's tabloids, pitting a young Swedish woman against a Wall Street financier 20 years her senior.
Jurors found in Bouveng’s favor on sexual harassment, retaliation and defamation claims but rejected her allegations of assault and battery.
The jury awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and $16 million in punitive damages, mostly for defamation, from Wey, NYGG and its FNL Media subsidiary. Bouveng's lawsuit had sought $850 million.
Lawyers for Wey declined to comment on the verdict, saying they would consider his legal options.
David Ratner, Bouveng's lawyer, said she was "extraordinarily relieved that this ordeal that he has put her through is finally over."
During the trial, Ratner told jurors that Bouveng’s “dream” was to work on Wall Street. He said Wey conducted a “relentless campaign” of harassment after hiring Bouveng in 2013 to run his firm’s marketing efforts, buying her gifts and demanding sexual favors in return.
Wey’s actions led to a two-minute sexual encounter in her apartment that left her feeling “degraded,” Ratner said. The two would have sex three more times before Bouveng rejected further attempts, the lawyer said.
In April 2014, Wey discovered another man in Bouveng’s apartment, which he was helping to finance, and fired her in retaliation, Ratner said. After she filed the lawsuit, he then wrote a series of disparaging articles in an online publication controlled by FNL Media.
Wey’s lawyer, Glenn Colton, countered that the two never had sex and that Bouveng attempted to extort him after she was fired for substandard work.
Bouveng, Colton told jurors, torpedoed her career by spending too much time enjoying the city’s nightlife and not enough on learning how to do her job.
NYGG has access to about $1 billion in investment capital, according to its website.
The case is Bouveng v. NYG Capital LLC et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 14-cv-5474.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)