BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem Superior Court jury has found that the co-owner of a Salisbury Honey Dew Donuts franchise sexually harassed at least one woman sent to work there while serving time in a pre-release center run by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department.
On Friday, the jury awarded Melissa Noyes of Amesbury a total of $35,000 in damages, after finding that she was subjected to sexual harassment by Sameer Hussin, the co-owner of the donut franchise shop, and that the Sheriff’s Department “aided and abetted” the harassment by ignoring her complaints.
The jury found that the Sheriff’s Department must pay half of a $10,000 damages award; Hussin, who is a partner in Sam and Al Inc., must pay the other half, plus $25,000 in punitive damages, according to the judgment.
Noyes’ attorney, Kenneth Homsey of Methuen, called the jury’s verdict “vindication” for his client and others who reported being harassed, some of whom testified during last week’s trial.
And while the amount of the jury’s award is significantly less than the $250,000 sought in the case, Homsey said his client is satisfied.
“From the beginning, my client, Ms. Noyes, and myself thought the important thing is that what was going on there had to see the light of day,” Homsey said. “I think the jury did a good job discovering the truth and applying the law.”
Noyes began serving a six-month jail term on a burglary charge in September 2011, according to court records. She was admitted to the Women in Transition program, a minimum security, pre-release facility in Salisbury, to serve her term, rather than MCI Framingham.
Inmates in the program are allowed to work during the day. Noyes was one of the 40 or so women who had been hired over the years by Hussin, who ran the Honey Dew shop on Bridge Road, according to her lawyer.
Soon, Hussin began to make sexual advances toward her, she said in the suit.
Homsey said a total of eight women reported similar behavior by Hussin, though their cases are barred by the statute of limitations. Some of those women testified during the trial.
When Noyes reported the episodes to jail staff, she was told by the jail to “tough it out,” Homsey said. If she didn’t, she would be sent to the women’s prison in Framingham, she was told.
Homsey said Noyes continued to work there until she was released.
In a formal response to the lawsuit, Hussin’s attorney, John Humphries of Newburyport, contended that Noyes was “terminated for violating company policy,” and called the suit “frivolous and brought in bad faith, and for the sole purpose of humiliating Mr. Hussin in front of his family and business associates.”
Humphries did not return a call seeking comment on whether he will appeal the jury’s verdict or any of Judge Timothy Feeley’s rulings during the trial yesterday.
Maurice Pratt, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said he cannot comment on the outcome of the case or whether the department will appeal the verdict.
He said the department stopped sending workers to that business in November 2011 because of problems with scheduling and staff turnover.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.