The Michigan supreme court has reportedly thrown out a $US21 million verdict against DaimlerChrysler in a sexual harassment case brought by an autoworker, saying the amount was “so excessive and so clearly the product of passion and prejudice.”

In a 4-3 ruling, the court sent the case back for a new trial, the Associated Press (AP) said, adding that the judgment was believed to be one of the largest awards to a single sexual harassment plaintiff.

Linda Gilbert reportedly has claimed DaimlerChrysler co-workers called her cruel names rarely uttered in mixed company and left sexually explicit cartoons and photos on and near her locker at a Chrysler assembly plant in Detroit.

She said she endured the sexual harassment for years, and won a $21 million judgment from a state court jury against the automaker in 1999, AP said.

But DaimlerChrysler reportedly said Gilbert disclosed a number of allegations only after she sued and said it did all it could with the knowledge it had.

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In five of the six incidents Gilbert reported, she withheld the names of those she thought were responsible, DaimlerChrysler said, according to the Associated Press.

“The jury verdict is so excessive and so clearly the product of passion and prejudice that there can be no justification for the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for a new trial,” Justice Robert Young reportedly wrote in the lead opinion, joined by Chief Justice Maura Corrigan and Justices Clifford Taylor and Stephen Markman.

“The jury’s verdict unmistakably reflects passion rather than reason and prejudice rather than impartiality,” the court said, according to the report.

Justices Michael Cavanagh, Marilyn Kelly and Elizabeth Weaver reportedly dissented from the court’s decision – they agreed the jury award was excessive but argued that the trial court judge could reduce Gilbert’s award rather than prepare for a new trial.

DaimlerChrysler told AP it was “gratified” by the court’s decision.

“DaimlerChrysler is a great place to work and is strongly committed to providing its employees with a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination,” Judith Pickering, the company’s assistant general counsel, reportedly said.

According to the Associated Press, Gilbert attacked the decision. “I think the Michigan Supreme Court dropped the ball,” she reportedly told the Detroit Free Press. “I went to everybody. All I wanted was to go to work and not be harassed.”

In a separate report, Reuters said that the court, noting that the verdict came soon after Daimler-Benz merged with Chrysler Corp., giving German executives control over the US automaker, said Gilbert’s lawyer had provoked the jury with “inflammatory rhetoric” in which he likened his client to a victim of the Holocaust.

He also used “unscientific expert testimony” to show that Gilbert relapsed into substance abuse and depression due to a permanent change in her “brain chemistry” caused by sexual harassment, the court reportedly said.

“Plaintiff’s counsel deliberately tried to provoke the jury by supplanting law, fact, and reason with prejudice, misleading arguments, and repeated ad hominen attacks against defendant based on its corporate status,” the court wrote in its opinion, according to Reuters.

However, Gilbert’s lawyer told the Associated Press he expected the court to overturn the verdict, calling the four majority justices “radical extremists” who are pro-business.

“We’ll go back to another jury and get a $50 million verdict,” he reportedly said, adding: “I look forward to it.”

AP noted that Gilbert sued in 1994 and won her settlement in 1999, but it has been under appeal ever since.

She was believed to be the first, and for many years only, female millwright at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit, the report noted.