Are There Limits on the Damages I can Receive in a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?
If you are the victim of sexual harassment or other illegal discriminatory conduct in the workplace, you have the right to sue your employer for monetary damages. The actual amount of money you receive will vary depending on the specific law involved. Federal law–specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964–actually “caps” the amount of compensatory and a prevailing employee may be entitled to an award of punitive damages under the NYSHRL. In contrast, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), which covers many of the same illegal acts as Title VII, imposes no cap on compensatory damages but prohibits punitive damages altogether.
Judge Rejects Employer's Efforts to Restate the Number of Employees it Had
The interaction of these two laws came into play in a recent decision from a federal court in upstate New York. In this case, Figueroa v. KK Sub II, LLC, a plaintiff sued her former employer for illegal retaliation under both Title VII and the NYSHRL. After a five-day trial, a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $150,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.
Following the jury's verdict, the defense filed a series of motions designed to reduce or eliminate the jury's award. Not surprisingly, the plaintiff opposed this. Here is a brief rundown of what transpired:
The defense said the plaintiff's compensatory damages were subject to the Title VII cap. The plaintiff replied that those damages should be allocated to her NYSHRL claim, so the cap should only apply to the jury's award of punitive damages.
The judge agreed with the plaintiff. He noted the jury's verdict on compensatory damages did not distinguish between the Title VII and NYSHRL claims. When faced with similar situations, other federal courts in New York have typically “allocated all, or nearly all, of the awarded compensatory damages to the state law claim.” The judge did likewise here.
The judge further allocated the entire amount of the punitive damages award to the plaintiff's Title VII claim (as such damages are not available under the NYSHRL). The punitive damages were, therefore, subject to Title VII's cap.
This raised another issue. Title VII limits damages based on the size of the employer, i.e., the total number of employees. For defendants with between 101 and 200 employees, the cap is $100,000. If the defendant has between 201 and 500 employees, the cap is $200,000.
In its post-trial motions, the defendant argued it had “had only about 180 employees during the relevant period,” meaning the judge should reduce the jury's punitive damages award from $250,000 to $100,000, but this contradicted the evidence already in the record. The judge noted that during pre-trial discovery, the defendant submitted documents that said it had 475 employees. This meant the $200,000 cap applied to the award.
Speak with a New York Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today
Employment discrimination cases often raise several technical legal issues like the ones described above. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced New York City employment attorney who understands Title VII, the NYSHRL, and related statutes. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., today if you have been the victim of work-related discrimination and need to speak with a lawyer right away.