In Salemi v Gloria’s Tribeca Inc., the Appellate Division, First Department unanimously upheld a jury’s $1.6 million award – comprising $400,000 in compensatory (emotional distress) damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages – for lesbian chef Mirella Salemi.
The court explained:
The record evidence, which is extensive and corroborated by multiple witnesses, amply supports the jury’s verdict that, in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law (City HRL), plaintiff’s employer, defendant Edward Globokar, the principal of Gloria’s Tribecamex Inc., which owned the restaurant where plaintiff worked as chef and manager, discriminated against her based on her religion and sexual orientation by, amongst other things, holding weekly prayer meetings at the restaurant where plaintiff worked which the staff viewed as mandatory, fearing that they would lose their jobs if they did not attend, repeatedly stating that homosexuality is “a sin,” and that “gay people” were “going to go to hell” and generally subjecting her to an incessant barrage of offensive anti-homosexual invective. Additional evidence demonstrated that as a result of Globokar’s improper conduct, plaintiff was retaliated against for objecting to his offensive comments, choosing not to attend workplace prayer meetings, and refusing to fire another employee because of his sexual orientation, and was constructively discharged. (Emphasis added.)
The court also held that the trial court “correctly instructed the jury that ‘[d]iscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or religion must be beyond what is considered petty slights and trivial inconveniences'”, and rejected defendant’s argument that it should have charged the jury based on the more restrictive New York State Human Rights Law’s hostile work environment standard.
It also rejected defendant’s argument that the trial court should have charged the jury with a particular NYCHRL provision “to protect Globokar’s right to express his religious views”, reasoning that the cited section “is designed to avail victims of employment discrimination, not perpetrators of discrimination.”
The trial court also “properly protected Globokar’s First Amendment rights by instructing the jury that he had ‘a right to express his religious beliefs and practice his religion, provided that he does not discriminate against his employees based on religion or sexual orientation.'”
Finally, the court held that the emotional distress damage award does “not materially deviate from awards for emotional distress rendered in similar cases”, and that the punitive damages award was not “grossly excessive” in light of “extensive evidence of defendants’ discriminatory conduct.”