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Judge Overturns Discrimination Award, Says Society Too Sensitive

November 10, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Saying society has become too sensitive, a judge overturned an $11 million jury award to a Nigerian-born salesman who said he was discriminated against at work with taunts of ``ooga-booga.″

Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey ruled Friday that the award against Pitney Bowes was ``was so unsupported by the evidence that it shocks the conscience of this court.″

Akintunde Ogunleye sued Pitney Bowes after he resigned from the Van Nuys sales office of subsidiary U.S. Mailing Systems in 1994. He claimed that he endured taunts of ``ooga-booga″ from a co-worker and was given less desirable sales areas because of his race.

Mackey called the alleged name-calling unfortunate, but said it did not prove racial discrimination or emotional distress caused by Pitney Bowes.

``Is our society so fragile that a salesman cannot take isolated comments, in a world where our movies, TV and media constantly use language which is offensive and salacious?″ Mackey wrote.

Ogunleye was upset by the decision.

``If there’s no evidence then I would not stick myself, my family, my career on the line and go as far as I went,″ Ogunleye said. ``If there’s no evidence then how come the jury saw it differently?″

His attorney, Margaret Henry, promised to appeal and said the judge ``does not understand either racism or the law. He has demonstrated through his opinions that he will not follow laws outlawing race discrimination.″

Lester Jones, a lawyer for Pitney Bowes, said the company has received awards for diversity efforts.

``While the jury may have believed Mr. Ogunleye was treated unfairly, unfairness is not enough to be interpreted as racial discrimination,″ he said.

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