RUTLAND, Vt. -- A federal jury has awarded $500,000 in back pay to a former theater professor, Leroy Logan, who sued Bennington College for dismissing him after he was accused of sexually assaulting a male student.
In making the award, the jurors Friday disregarded the instructions of Judge Franklin S. Billings of U.S. District Court, who told them they must limit the amount of compensatory damages to the terms of Mr. Logan's five-year contract, $272,712. The jury was not asked to rule on whether the assault occurred.
"It is extraordinary for a jury to ignore the judge's specific instructions," said J. Scott Cameron, a Montpelier lawyer who specializes in employment law. "In my experience, juries are having a lot of trouble doing the correct thing in employment cases. Part of it is that job security is becoming a huge issue for people. Part of it is that people no longer trust authority or institutions."
Mr. Logan, now a movie script reader in Los Angeles, said after the verdict that he did not plan to seek to return to his job at Bennington.
A spokeswoman for Bennington College, Andrea Diehl, said college officials "were stunned" by the verdict.
"On campus, there's a great concern about the effect this would have on students," she said. "This is a disincentive for students to bring sexual harassment charges if they think nothing will come of it."
Ms. Diehl said that the college was considering whether to appeal the amount of the verdict.
Mr. Logan was dismissed in June 1990 after a college committee of faculty, staff and students found that he had sexually assaulted a student in November 1989.
Mr. Logan then sued the small liberal arts college for breach of contract, charging that the committee had violated his contract by restricting his right to defend himself at the hearing. He said that he had not been allowed to have a lawyer present or to call witnesses who would have challenged the character and behavior of his accuser.