Large jury verdicts tend to garner news headlines. Sexual harassment cases are no exception, especially in the current social climate. Before pursuing an employment discrimination claim, you should be aware of how the law restricts the amount of damages you may actually receive, notwithstanding a jury's determination.
$13.4 Million Employment Discrimination Award Likely to Come Down
For example, a federal jury in Manhattan recently awarded $13.4 million in total damages to a 59-year-old African-American woman who accused her employer of illegal discrimination. Obviously, that is a huge victory for the plaintiff. Unfortunately, a good portion of that award is likely to be reduced by the judge.
First, a brief explanation of the underlying lawsuit. According to the plaintiff's amended complaint, she worked for the defendant for nearly 30 years. She alleged that while employed as a storeroom assistant, she was subjected to a “hostile work environment” created by her former supervisor. Among other actions, the supervisor allegedly:
- Called the plaintiff into his office to “yell and scream at her”;
- Spoke to the plaintiff with “contempt and disrespect”;
- Made “inappropriate comments” about the plaintiff's physical appearance and age, e.g., “I would tap that ass if you wasn’t an old coon”; and
- Refused to allow her to work overtime and perform other jobs because she was a woman.
When the defendant refused to take any action against the supervisor for these actions, the plaintiff filed an employment discrimination lawsuit. The case proceeded to a jury trial. On March 2, the jury agreed with the plaintiff that the employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law, both of which forbid employment discrimination on the basis of sex. The jury further rejected the defendant's claim that it "exercised reasonable care” in preventing or stopping the supervisor's sexual harassment of the plaintiff.
The jury then proceeded to award damages. Ultimately, the jury ordered the defendant to pay the plaintiff $1.7 million for compensatory damages arising from the “emotional distress, pain and suffering” she endured as a result of the supervisor's harassment. The jury awarded an additional $11.7 million in punitive damages to punish the defendant for its failure to properly deal with the situation.
Now, here is where the law conflicts with the jury. Title VII caps the amount of compensatory and punitive damages a plaintiff may receive to $300,000. This means the punitive damage award must be reduced to that amount, since the NYSHRL does not allow for any recovery of punitive damages. As for the compensatory damages, the plaintiff may still be able to receive the full $1.7 million, as the NYSHRL permits such damages and, unlike Title VII, imposes no cap.
Stand Up to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Regardless of the final amount of money the plaintiff in the case above receives, the jury's verdict sends a clear message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in New York. If you have been forced to endure a hostile work environment, you should speak with a qualified New York City employment law attorney who can advise you of your rights. Call the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, at (646) 760-6493 to speak with a member of our team today.