Sexual Harassment During Company Halloween Party Among Facts of Case Resulting in $170,000 Compensatory Damages Award

Halloween is a fun holiday. Not so, however, for employees forced to endure sexual harassment during a company Halloween party.

In Maher v. All. Mortg. Banking Corp., No. CV 06-5073 DRH ARL, 2010 WL 3516153 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2010), report and recommendation adopted, No. 06 CV 5073 DRH ARL, 2010 WL 3521921 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 1, 2010), a sexual harassment case, the court assessed plaintiff’s claim for damages following a settlement with the individual harasser, and a default judgment against the corporate entity. (For more background, you may wish to review the court’s prior summary judgment order.)

In sum, plaintiff alleged that that a Senior Vice President, Raymond Agoglia, subjected her to repeated sexual harassment and forcible touching. Among other allegations were that “[i]n October 2004, while Maher was dressed as a punk schoolgirl for a work-sponsored Halloween party, Agoglia approached her to ask if the fishnet stockings she was wearing were thigh-highs, and if so, to see them.” Plaintiff also alleged, inter alia, that Agoglia “gestured towards [her] breasts, touched her buttocks, blew in her ear, and grazed [her] breast while he tried to place a cigar down the front of her shirt.”

In determining that plaintiff was entitled to $170,000 in compensatory damages, the court explained:

Here, Maher was humiliated by Agoglia’s repeated inappropriate touching, described above, as well as Alliance’s failure to address her complaints. She was only eighteen years old at the time and extremely upset by the harassment she endured at work. She dreaded going to work, and had difficulty sleeping.  She reported that Alliance’s conduct aggravated her irritable bowel syndrome and temporomandibular joint disorder, requiring her to seek medical attention. Maher alleged that she also sought psychological counseling. A report based on her two psychologist visits in January and February of 2006 notes that at the time of her visits, she was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. The report concludes that “[t]here is little doubt that the months of sexual harassment suffered by this young woman have had a significant, adverse impact on her mental health.” The report suggested that Maher continue sessions with a psychologist to address her problems and symptoms. Maher did not continue to receive psychological treatment, nor is there evidence that her emotional distress was ongoing. Further, in spite of her emotional distress, Maher was able to secure other employment, although the psychologist’s report notes that she complained of being unable to focus in her new position. Thus, in light of her allegations regarding the physical manifestations of her emotional distress and the corroborating psychological evaluation by a professional, the undersigned finds that Maher’s emotional distress is properly categorized as significant.

While Maher’s uncontested evidence of emotional distress is significant because her claims allege the need for medical attention, an award of $2,000,000 would be excessive. Courts in this Circuit have routinely found that awards ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 are not excessive for significant emotional distress damages. … As Maher’s damages are limited to $200,000 by statute and that amount falls within the typical range of damages awarded for significant emotional distress on Title VII claims, the undersigned therefore respectfully recommends that Maher be awarded $170,000 in compensatory damages.