Court Upholds $25,000 Sexual Harassment Damage Awards

In New York State Div. of Human Rights v. Miranda, No. 520714, 2016 WL 732195 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dept. Feb. 25, 2016), the court upheld the New York State Division of Human Rights’ award of $25,000 to each of two plaintiffs who alleged that they suffered sexual harassment while working as waitresses at Nonnopapa Enterprises (doing business as The Big Apple Restaurant).

From the decision:

[B]oth petitioners testified that they were sexually harassed on a daily basis by respondent Dominick Paduano, the restaurant’s head chef. According to petitioners, Paduano’s harassment consisted of repeated lewd gestures, demeaning comments and graphic descriptions of his oft-stated desire to engage in various sexual acts with petitioners. Burns testified that Paduano’s comments made her “so upset inside [that] it was hard to even continue to go back out and wait on a customer.” Similarly, Anderson testified that Paduano’s conduct caused her to feel extreme anxiety, stress, fear and depression. Although petitioners made numerous complaints to respondent David Miranda, a co-owner of the restaurant who was often present in the kitchen and witnessed Paduano’s conduct, Miranda refused to take any action to remedy the situation.

We find ample support in the record for the Commissioner’s determination that petitioners were exposed to a hostile work environment as a result of sexual harassment. There is also support for the Commissioner’s imposition of personal liability against Miranda for condoning Paduano’s harassing conduct. Further, petitioners are entitled to enforcement of the Commissioner’s order against [the restaurant] … through [Miranda’s] ownership interest. Inasmuch as the restaurant and Miranda are independently liable for violating Executive Law § 296(1), their participation in the discriminatory conduct serves as a predicate for the imposition of personal liability against Paduano pursuant to Executive Law § 296(6) for aiding and abetting his employer’s violations.

The court declined, however, to impose personal liability on another co-owner of the restaurant, finding that the State Division failed to satisfy its burden to prove that he “condoned the discriminatory conduct.”

As to the amount of the awards, the court explained:

[W]e find that the Commissioner’s award of $25,000 each in damages to petitioners for their mental pain and suffering was reasonably related to the wrongdoing, supported by the record and comparable to other awards for similar injuries. Burns testified that, prior to working at the restaurant, she was a victim of rape, and that Paduano’s conduct made her feel as though she was “letting [her]self be victimized again.” Her resulting distress required her to reach out to her rape crisis counselor. Anderson testified that, as a result of the harassment, she began seeing a psychologist and was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which she was still taking at the time of the hearing. In light of this uncontradicted testimony, and the fact that the award is commensurate with damages awards granted under similar circumstances, we decline to disturb it.

Share This: