Court Reverses Damages Reductions in Sexual Harassment Case Against Montefiore Medical Center

In Madrigal v. Montefiore Medical Center et al., No. 12306, 2020-00608, 307949/10E, 2021 N.Y. Slip Op. 00526, 2021 WL 329412 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., Feb. 02, 2021), the court, inter alia, upheld damage awards for plaintiff on her gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation claims. (The court’s discussion of liability is discussed here.)

A jury awarded plaintiff the following damages:

  • $1,585,000 – battery
  • $1,500,000 – emotional distress (hostile work environment)
  • $2,100,000 – emotional distress (retaliatory termination)
  • $824,000 – lost wages

The trial court, however, thought these awards were too high, and granted granted defendants’ motion to set aside the jury verdict to the extent of effectively dismissing the claim for common-law battery and ordering a new trial unless plaintiff stipulated to reduce the damages awards to the following amounts:

  • $250,000 – emotional distress (hostile work environment)
  • $150,000 – emotional distress (retaliatory termination)
  • $123,805 – lost wages

The appellate court unanimously modified this order, and gave plaintiff a choice between a new trial on damages, and accepting reduced awards of:

  • $750,000 – reinstated battery claim
  • $750,000 – emotional distress (hostile work environment)
  • $1 million – emotional distress (retaliation)

It also reinstated and directed a new trial on plaintiff’s claims for gender discrimination and prayer for punitive damages (which were dismissed on a directed verdict).

The court explained its rationale as follows:

The jury heard evidence of a years long campaign of physical and emotional abuse against plaintiff by her colleagues and supervisors that was willfully ignored by her employer. This environment caused plaintiff to suffer panic attacks and anxiety, with physical symptoms including sleeplessness, shortness of breath, and chest pain, necessitating several visits to the emergency room over the course of several years. Plaintiff’s doctor prescribed her sleep and anti-anxiety medicine, the latter of which she still takes. The termination caused her to sink into depression, from which she still had not recovered by the time of the trial years afterward. Under these uniquely abhorrent circumstances, the awards were reduced to levels that were disproportionately low (see e.g. Turley v ISG Lackawanna, Inc., 774 F3d 140, 163 [2d Cir 2014]).

Finally, the court held that punitive damages were warranted, in light of evidence of “a sustained campaign of malicious discrimination, as well as a painful and humiliating battery, which collectively amounted to a ‘conscious disregard of the rights of others or conduct so reckless as to amount to such disregard'” such that “plaintiff should have had an opportunity to present her claim for punitive damages to the jury.”

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