In Styka v. My Merchants Services LLC et al (EDNY 14-cv-6198 (March 15, 2016)), an employment discrimination/sexual harassment/hostile work environment/retaliation case, Eastern District of New York Magistrate Judge Scanlon recommended awarding plaintiff $120,000 to compensate her for emotional distress (in addition to other damages, such as back pay and punitive damages) following defendants’ default.
This case apparently involves the same defendants, and the same alleged harasser, as in Drice v. My Merchant Services LLC et al (which I recently wrote about) – where the court awarded a different plaintiff $20,000 in emotional distress damages – and is therefore instructive on what factors will justify a higher award.
From the court’s factual summary:
After Plaintiff started working for Defendant My Merchants Services, [My Merchant’s CEO Jose] Valerios began making racially discriminatory comments, saying that Plaintiff was his “white Polish girl” and “whitey reddish girl,” and calling her a “Polack.” He made these comments every day and in front of Plaintiff’s coworkers and the company’s clients. One month into her employment, Mr. Valerios began directing sexual comments at Plaintiff, including saying that he wanted to touch and have sex with Plaintiff.
After reviewing the law, the court explained why, in its view, a $120,000 emotional distress award was warranted:
In this case, Plaintiff’s claims for emotional distress are supported by her Complaint, affidavit, testimony at the hearing and her post-hearing submission. At the inquest hearing, Plaintiff testified regarding Mr. Valerios’s sexual and race-based harassment of her over a five-month period and the effect of his behavior on her mental and emotional health. She stated that his constant sexually explicit comments, sexual advances, which included grabbing parts of her body and attempting to kiss her, and racially charged comments made her feel very vulnerable and worthless, and as if she were a “piece of meat.” Plaintiff testified that Mr. Valerios grabbed her inappropriately and tried to kiss her on five different occasions. Plaintiff also felt as if Mr. Valerios used the knowledge that she was going through a divorce and could not afford to quit her job as a license to continue to harass her. Mr. Valerios’s behavior only became worse over the five-month period that Plaintiff worked for him, despite the many times that she asked him to stop and threatened to report his behavior to the police. After Plaintiff eventually reported his behavior to the police, Mr. Valerios pled guilty to sexual harassment. As a result of his harassment, Plaintiff testified that she now experiences fluctuations in her weight, insomnia, difficulty relating to her daughter and boyfriend, fatigue and trouble communicating with her colleagues in her new position. She takes anti-anxiety medication to help address some of these symptoms. Plaintiff is still experiencing these symptoms almost two years after her employment with Defendants ended. Plaintiff’s allegations of emotional distress are significant, especially as she continues to experience symptoms almost two years after the incident and sometimes takes anti-anxiety medication. Yet, the allegations are supported through Plaintiff’s testimony only. Additionally, while the symptoms have persisted, Plaintiff’s employment was brief, and Plaintiff was also experiencing other life events that caused her to experience distress. Accordingly, based on Plaintiff’s submissions and testimony, the severity and intensity of Mr. Valerios’s sexually harassing behavior, the brief duration of her employment, the continuation of Plaintiff’s symptoms and the applicable case law, the Court respectfully recommends that the District Judge award Plaintiff $120,000 in emotional distress damages, which is the upward limit for significant claims between those cases in which the plaintiff did not seek medical attention and claims on the upward range where the plaintiff experiences more severe symptoms than Plaintiff.