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Appeals court affirms $6.1 M

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McDonald’s ordered that it must follow jury decision and pay Louise Ogborn $6.1 million from strip-search incident in Mount Washington

By The Staff

FRANKFORT - The McDonald’s Corp. should pay a former employee $6.1 million for not properly warning her of previous hoax phone calls made to restaurants.

The state Court of Appeals rendered its opinion Friday in the case involving a McDonald’s in Mount Washington that drew national attention.

While the three-member panel affirms the Bullitt Circuit jury decision to award Louise Ogborn over $6 million, it lowered an award given to assistant manager Donna Summers.

On April 9, 2004, Ogborn, then 18, was an employee at the Mount Washington McDonald’s when a caller stating he was a police officer told Summers to detain the worker on a possible theft charge.

Over the course of the next three hours, Ogborn would be in the restaurant office and forced to disrobe and perform sexual acts as Walter Nix watched. Nix, who was Summers’ boyfriend at the time, would later plead guilty to sex abuse charges.

Summers would enter an Alford plea to a misdemeanor.

After three hours, it was finally realized that the caller on the phone was not a police officer but a hoax.

Bullitt County officials tried a Florida man for the hoax calls but he was acquitted and no other jurisdiction filed criminal charges. The hoax calls were made over a 10-year period to restaurants throughout the United States.

During the trial, which also drew national attention, attorney Ann Oldfather argued that the McDonald’s Corp. had received numerous hoax calls in the past but had done nothing to make sure managers and employees knew about them.

In fact, a McDonald’s in Hillview received a similar call but the staff hung up.

“In Ogborn’s case, the evidence clearly allowed the jury to find that McDonald’s knew or had reason to know there was a risk that the hoax caller would call another of its restaurants; this was a risk to Ogborn’s employment which McDonald’s create,” the panel wrote.

The restaurant chain argued in its appeal that the unknown caller should have paid half of the damages.

It also argued that the punitive damages awarded were unconstitutional.

The Court of Appeals panel wrote that McDonald’s employees were told to follow the orders of police and there was no room for deviation.

By virtue of that training, the employees were vulnerable to “violence, the threat of violence, trickery or deceit.”

The panel ruled that the $1,000,000 punitive damages awarded to Summers by the jury was constitutionally excessive.

It said in its ruling that the damages to Ogborn and Summers were substantially different.

The panel awarded Summers $400,000 in punitive damages in addition to the $100,000 in compensatory damages.

The court affirmed the $6.1 million judgment for Ogborn.

The matter would be returned to special judge Tom McDonald in Bullitt Circuit Court for a final judgment. The Court of Appeals decision could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.