Second Circuit Upholds Remittitur of Jury’s Award of $2 Million to $200,000 for Emotional Distress Damages in Employment Discrimination Case

In Emamian v. Rockefeller University, 2020 WL 4811383 (2d Cir. Aug. 19, 2020) (Summary Order) – a race/national origin employment discrimination case – the court (inter alia) affirmed the district court’s remittitur of the jury’s $2 million award of damages for emotional distress to $200,000.

From the decision:

Emamian argues that the district court erred by ordering a new trial as to emotional distress damages unless Emamian accepted a remitted emotional distress damages award of $200,000. This Court “review[s] a district court’s ruling on remittitur for abuse of discretion.” Zeno v. Pine Plains Cent. Sch. Dist., 702 F.3d 655, 672 (2d Cir. 2012). Furthermore, where, as here, “the district court applies the least intrusive standard to calculate remittitur—granting remittitur ‘only to the maximum amount that would be upheld by the district court as not excessive,’ ” this Court’s “review is particularly deferential.” Id. (quoting Earl v. Bouchard Transp. Co., Inc., 917 F.2d 1320, 1330 & n.8 (2d Cir. 1990)).

We detect no abuse of discretion in the district court’s reduction of the $2,000,000 award to $200,000. Emamian’s first argument—that the district court incorrectly employed the federal, rather than New York, standard for remittitur—is belied by the record. The court explicitly acknowledged that New York law was applicable and discussed how the New York standard for remittitur differs from the federal standard. See Special App’x 66–67 (stating that New York law applied, setting forth the New York standard, and observing that “[t]his standard requires a more exacting review than the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard generally applied by federal courts”). While the court later also noted that the analysis of the extent of Emamian’s emotional distress pursuant to New York law “appear[ed] similar to the federal, ‘significant emotional distress’ standard,” id. at 67, that observation does not suggest that the court failed to apply the correct standard in evaluating the ultimate appropriateness of the jury’s award.

Nor can Emamian demonstrate more broadly that the district court abused its discretion in determining that remittitur was warranted. The court engaged in a careful, thorough survey of comparable cases, correctly determining that even cases involving far more egregious conduct culminated in awards of far less than $2,000,000 and that comparable cases resulted in awards in the low six-figure range. Accordingly, we uphold the district court’s remittitur determination for substantially the reasons stated in its well-reasoned opinion.

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