The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld a landmark $10 million jury award to a victim of an anti-gay attack which left him a paraplegic. The victim survived being shot six times after his assailant verbally harassed and threatened him. The Court also recognized the direct escalating link between verbal harassment and serious assaultive violence in such attacks.
Pinkerton Security had been ordered to pay the victim because their guard, who had been contracted to provide security services at the victim's apartment building where the attack took place, did nothing to prevent the harassment or shooting.
Sean McBride was shot six times on the night of 27 January 1994, while entering his apartment building in Detroit. He had been taunted and subject to anti-gay epithets, including "faggot," "fag," "bitch," and "sissy," by the assailant earlier in the evening. The Pinkerton guard was present at the scene and observed the entire verbal exchange as well as the shooting. The guard did nothing to intervene or to put a stop to the episode.
In finding for Mr. McBride, the Court clearly recognized the escalation factor in anti-gay bias incidents, and the danger posed by what might at first appear to be simple harassment. Even in light of Mr. McBride's admission that he had been subject to anti-gay taunts in the past, the Court stated that "plaintiff's thick skin" did not absolve Pinkerton from "their duty to protect plaintiff from the criminal acts of those harassing him."
In fact, the Court found that "The nature of the verbal harassment was both personal and offensive, and we do not find it unforeseeable that the verbal harassment ultimately escalated to a physical confrontation."
The ruling was made as the July Fourth weekend was just getting underway, prompting Mr. McBride to say: "This truly represents my independence. I feel vindicated and can move on with my life, trying to put some sense and order to it after all these years waiting for justice to be done."
"This ruling not only brings justice and closure for Sean, it also stands as proof that people are getting the message that anti-gay remarks are offensive and unacceptable, and that they indicate danger, said Carol McNeilage, Mr. McBride's attorney. "This shows that the work of the Triangle Foundation and others has had a major impact in sensitizing people to the fact that comments and actions have consequences, and now the offensiveness of anti-gay epithets is officially recognized."
"This is a great day for Sean McBride," said Jeffrey Montgomery, Executive Director of the Triangle Foundation, Michigan's leading gay and lesbian civil rights organization. "Hopefully with this ruling, Sean can get on with his life, which has been on hold while Pinkerton tried to dodge its unpardonable responsibility in this terrible incident."
"We are also very pleased to see that the Court was clear and cognizant about the relationship between harassment and acts of violence in bias motivated incidents," Montgomery added. "This is an important and encouraging ruling for those of us who are engaged in the daily task of combating hate-motivated violence."