006: A Penny Earned

Stella Case No. 006, Originally Published: 25 September 2002

Rosemary Aquavia, a secretary for the mayor of Naugatuck, Conn., was reprimanded by her supervisor — orally, not even in writing — after she allegedly used a borough fax machine for a personal matter.

Rather than accept the rebuke for breaking the rules, Aquavia filed a federal lawsuit against the town for violating her First Amendment right to free speech.

Don’t spend it all in one place.

The case actually made it to trial. A jury of Aquavia’s peers agreed that the slap on her hand was too harsh a penalty, and awarded her monetary damages. The total amount awarded by the sympathetic jury: one cent.

Aquavia appealed the reward to U.S. District Court Judge Janet Arterton, asking her to increase her damages — to one dollar. (Yes, really.) The judge turned down the appeal.

The case took three years from incident to the end of her appeal, and cost Aquavia $5,000 in legal fees. While amusing, think of the costs to the town and the federal government, since the case was heard in federal court. That means you paid for Aquavia’s tantrum to be heard.

Sources

  • “Penny’s Worth of Justice Is All She Gets,” Waterbury Republican-American, 23 September 2002.

Case Status

Appeal denied. Total damages awarded: one cent.

Letters

Bill in New York: “Just wanted to let you know how much I really, really, really, REALLY enjoy the True Stella Awards. I work videotaping depositions for big law firms and while most of the cases at this level are not frivolous (at least in an clear-cut, obvious way), the amount of overkill — in terms of number of lawyers involved, copies of exhibits duplicated, and, yes, video tapes, CD-ROMs, etc. shot and burned — in pursuing a justifiable lawsuit would make you cry non-crocodile tears. It’s staggering how much money is involved, and not just for the lawyers but for all the support staff and businesses. Seen from my this angle, you begin to realize how much all of this is viewed not so much legal recourse to right a wrong, but as a legitimate way to make money off a system that allows it. Keep up the great work!”

My 2020 Thoughts on the Case

This is the sort of person that my This is True newsletter dubs an “obliviot” — a term that was sorely needed back then, but at least we have it now!

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1 Comment on “006: A Penny Earned

  1. I received a letter some years ago about a class-action lawsuit against eBay Motors; something about fees being improperly disclosed, I think. I filled out their form, sent it back, and forgot about it. Months later I received a check for $0.01. I still have that check & am considering framing it.

    PS I’m sure the lawyers got somewhat more than I did.

    Reply

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