In Matter of New York State Division of Human Rights v. GSN Transportation et al, No. 89, TP 20-01098, 2021 N.Y. Slip Op. 02629, 2021 WL 1711190 (N.Y.A.D. 4 Dept., Apr. 30, 2021), the court (a) unanimously confirmed a determination of the New York State Division of Human Rights which found that respondents GNS Transportation and Gurnake Singh unlawfully discriminated against the complainant by subjecting him to a disability-based hostile work environment, and (b) ordered the respondents to pay the complainant $7,500 in compensatory damages and to pay the State of New York $2,000 as a civil penalty.
After explaining the legal standard for the court’s review of the lower agency determination, the court turned to the merits.
The court explained (albeit without reference to the specific facts):
Here, upon our review of the record, we conclude there is substantial evidence supporting the Commissioner’s determination that respondents subjected complainant to a hostile work environment inasmuch as the workplace was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the complainant’s employment and create an abusive working environment. (Forrest v Jewish Guild for the Blind, 3 NY3d 295, 310 , quoting Harris v Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 US 17, 21 ; see Matter of Anagnostakos v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 46 AD3d 992, 993 [3d Dept 2007]). In addition, we agree with petitioner that substantial evidence further supports the determination that Singh, as owner of GSN Transportation, was individually liable for the discrimination. (Matter of State Div. of Human Rights v Koch, 60 AD3d 777, 777-778 [2d Dept 2009]; see Matter of New York State Div. of Human Rights v Nancy Potenza Design & Bldg. Servs., Inc., 87 AD3d 1365, 1365-1366 [4th Dept 2011]). [Cleaned up; internal quotation marks and bracketing omitted.]
As to the compensatory damages award and penalty, the court explained:
We also agree with petitioner that the award of $7,500 in compensatory damages for mental anguish and humiliation is reasonably related to the wrongdoing, supported by substantial evidence, and comparable to awards in similar cases. (Matter of Stellar Dental Mgt. LLC v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 162 AD3d 1655, 1658 [4th Dept 2018]; see Matter of Mohawk Val. Orthopedics, LLP v Carcone, 66 AD3d 1350, 1351 [4th Dept 2009]; Matter of Manhattan & Bronx Surface Tr. Operating Auth. v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 225 AD2d 553, 554 [2d Dept 1996]).
Finally, we agree with petitioner that the Commissioner properly imposed a $2,000 civil fine and penalty. Judicial review of an administrative penalty is limited to whether the measure or mode of penalty constitutes an abuse of discretion as a matter of law. A penalty must be upheld unless it is ‘so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness, thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law. (Matter of Kelly v Safir, 96 NY2d 32, 38 , rearg denied 96 NY2d 854 ) and, here, the penalty is not an abuse of discretion as a matter of law (see Matter of County of Erie v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 121 AD3d 1564, 1566 [4th Dept 2014]). [Cleaned up; paragraphing added; internal quotation marks and bracketing omitted.]
Interestingly, while the court does not delve into (or even mention) the specific facts underlying its determination that $7,500 was an appropriate compensatory damages award, one case it cites as an example of a “similar case” – Matter of Stellar Dental Mgt. LLC v. New York State Div. of Human Rights, 162 AD3d 1655, 1658 [4th Dept 2018] – upheld compensatory damages awards of $35,000, $65,000, and $50,000 – i.e., many times more than the award of $7,500 here.