Court Explains Remittitur of $750,000 Punitive Damages Award in Disability Discrimination Case

In Duarte v. St. Barnabas Hospital, 15-CV-6824, 2018 WL 4440501 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2018) – a disability discrimination case – the court held, inter alia, that a jury award of $750,000 for punitive damages was too high, and that $125,000 was more appropriate.

The court explained, inter alia, that “[u]nder the [New York City Human Rights Law], “a plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages where the wrongdoer’s actions amount to willful or wanton negligence, or recklessness, or where there is a conscious disregard of the rights of others or conduct so reckless as to amount to such disregard.”

Initially, the court held that the jury correctly determined that punitive damages were warranted:

As an initial matter, the Hospital does not dispute that a reasonable jury could have found that Quinones’s conduct amounted to willful or wanton negligence, or recklessness, or demonstrated a conscious disregard of Duarte’s rights or conduct so reckless as to amount to such disregard. Plaintiff testified that she complained about Quinones’s discriminatory conduct on multiple occasions to both Quinones and Arce-Tomala, and that neither of these supervisors forwarded her complaints to Human Resources or acted upon them in any way. (Tr. at 787-89, 793-95) To the contrary, Plaintiff testified that Quinones ignored her complaints and that Arce-Tomala told Plaintiff that she had to “deal with” Quinones’s discriminatory conduct on her own. (Id. at 795) The supervisors’ failure to forward Plaintiff’s complaints to Human Resources directly contravened the Hospital’s written policies (see PX 7 (Dkt. No. 72-6) at 30 (“Any [ ] supervisor or manager who receives a report or complaint of discrimination or harassment must report that alleged offense immediately.”) ) and raises questions about the adequacy of the Hospital’s training. Arce-Tomala’s testimony that she did not know the Hospital’s procedures for reporting discrimination (Tr. at 328-29) also suggests that the Hospital’s anti-discrimination training programs were ineffective.

Nevertheless, the court held that the sum awarded by the jury ($750,000) was excessive.

It noted, inter alia, that “the jury’s award of $750,000 in punitive damages represents a ratio of approximately 6 to 1 when measured against the remitted compensatory award of $125,000″ and cited Second Circuit case law stating that “[a]s a general matter, [a] four-to-one ratio of punitive to compensatory damages … is close to the line of constitutional impropriety.”