Helmsley ordered to pay $11 million to gay former employee

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 06 2003 12:00 AM ET

A jury awarded more than $11 million to a former hotel manager Tuesday after concluding that he was fired by real estate maven Leona Helmsley because he is gay. The jury found that Charles Bell had endured a "hostile and abusive work environment" while running Helmsley's Park Lane Hotel. He was awarded $10 million in punitive damages and $1.2 million in compensatory damages. New York supreme court justice Walter Tolub had told the jurors to take into account the defendant's financial condition and said Helmsley's net worth is estimated at $3.2-$4 billion.

Helmsley looked impassively at the jurors as the decision was read but said later that she was "shocked" by the award. "I think it's shameful," she said. "It will encourage more people to lie, cheat, and steal. He [Bell] broke every rule. I'm outraged." Her lawyer, Steven Eckhaus, said he would move immediately to set aside the verdict and, failing that, would appeal.

Bell, 48, had sued Helmsley, 82, for $40 million, saying that once she found out he was gay she subjected him to almost daily verbal abuse until she fired him in March 2001. Bell testified tearfully during the trial, saying that about a month before Helmsley fired him, "she started to yell at me. She said, 'You look like a fag. You dress like a fag. You are a fag."' Bell said Tuesday that he is happy the jury agreed Helmsley had discriminated against him, adding, "I don't believe that any gay person should ever have to go through this kind of treatment again, ever." Eckhaus previously had said that Bell was fired because he was unqualified, not because he's gay. He noted that Bell admitted that he had submitted a resume that was "phony baloney." Two other gay former employees of Helmsley's have lawsuits pending against her.