Damage Award in Sexual Harassment Case Reduced from $500,000 to $50,000
In a case before the Supreme Court of New York, the Court modified a $500,000 damage award for mental anguish from sexual harassment to $50,000. The Court found the half million dollar damage award by the Commissioner of Human Rights excessive and stated, “In sexual harassment proceedings with the State Division of Human Rights, damage awards for mental anguish and humiliation must be based upon actual pecuniary loss and emotional injury; care must be taken to insure that the award is compensatory and not punitive in nature.”
The petitioner in the case was a female high school student employed by Young Legends, LLC in a franchise sandwich shop in the City of Norwich. In January 2007 the teenage employee filed a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights alleging that Dale Blackwood, her supervisor and the owner of Young Legends, subjected her to sexual harassment during her employment. She testified about Blackwood’s “touchy feely” interactions with female employees and offensive sexual remarks.
In particular, Blackwood put constant pressure on the petitioner to visit him alone in his apartment and when she eventually did so, he forced her to engage in sexual intercourse. When Blackwood asked her to return to his apartment, she refused. In a series of angry, insulting text messages he told her that her refusal meant she was quitting her job.
The Damage Award
Following a public hearing the Administrative Law Judge determined that the petitioner had been subjected to quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment and that Blackwood was personally liable. The Judge recommended a damage award of $1,218.75 for lost wages and $25,000 for mental anguish and humiliation. On administrative review, the Commissioner of Human Rights modified the order by increasing the mental anguish award to $500,000.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of New York indicated that in sexual harassment and discrimination proceedings with the State Division of Human Rights, damage awards for mental anguish and humiliation must be based on actual pecuniary loss and emotional injury. Damage awards are meant to compensate the victim rather than be punitive in nature. While Blackwood’s conduct was completely reprehensible, the court compared the evidence to similar sexual harassment and discrimination cases to conclude that the Commissioner’s award was excessive and reduced it to $50,000.
The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about a sexual harassment claim or workplace discrimination or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email atJMaya@mayalaw.com.
New York State Div. of Human Rights v. Young Legends, LLC, 90 A.D.3d 1265, 1269-70 (2011)