Court Remits $2.16 Million Jury Verdict to $250,000 in Race/National Origin Hostile Work Environment Case

In Sooroojballie v. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, 2020 WL 2988851 (2d Cir. June 4, 2020) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit, inter alia, held that the jury’s emotional damages awarded by the jury ($2,160,000) on plaintiff’s race- and national origin-based hostile work environment claim was excessive, and determined that $250,000 was more appropriate.

After summarizing the three categories of emotional distress damages – (1) garden variety, (2) significant, and (3) egregious – it applied that framework to the facts here:

In the instant case, utilizing this helpful framework, we conclude that Sooroojballie’s emotional distress damages were significant based upon the evidence presented at trial. Sooroojballie testified that, from the summer of 2013 until he left the Port Authority in October 2014, he suffered stress at work from the hostile work environment, resulting in insomnia, anxiety, and depression, for which he was prescribed medication. He also testified about how the stress strained his relationship with his family and led to his excessive drinking. There was further evidence that, between May 2014 and January 2015, he attended 14 counseling sessions with social worker Dr. Stanley Schneider, and continued to attend the sessions for one to two months after he left the Port Authority.

The court was unpersuaded by plaintiff’s argument that his damages fell into the “egregious” category, noting that plaintiff “did not provide evidence of lasting psychological effects from the hostile work environment, and had no further contact with his internist (who was treating his mental health issues) after he began his new job with the City of New York”.

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