Court Awards Damages, Including $25,000 for Emotional Distress, in N-Word Race Discrimination Case Upon Defendants’ Default

In Laboy v. Office Equip. & Supply Corp., No. 15-cv-3321, 2016 WL 5462976 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2016), a race discrimination and unpaid wages lawsuit, the court entered judgment in plaintiff’s favor following defendants’ default.

The facts, in sum/part, taken from plaintiff’s complaint:

[Defendants Michael] Prince and [Steven] Maglio referred to Laboy and other dark skinned individuals by the N-word on an almost daily basis throughout Laboy’s employment. Laboy claims that the racial discrimination made it difficult to perform his job and interact with Prince and Maglio. Laboy told Prince and Maglio to stop calling him [the N-word] on several occasions because he took offense to that language, but they refused, and thereafter terminated Laboy. Defendants hired another person to perform Laboy’s job.

While the court’s extensive analysis covers all of plaintiff’s claims – including those for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law – here I’ll focus on its assessment of damages on plaintiff’s race discrimination claims under the NYC Human Rights Law.

The court easily found a basis for liability under that statute:

Laboy has established a prima facie case under the NYCHRL. Laboy alleges that Prince and Maglio called him the N-word on a near daily basis throughout his employment, making it difficult to perform his job; when Laboy asked them to stop, he was terminated as a result. (See page 2 above.) These allegations suffice to support a claim for a hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge under the NYCHRL’s broad remedial scheme.

The court held that the employer was “liable for Prince and Maglio’s actions [under NYCHRL § 8-107(13)(b)] given their managerial and supervisory responsibilities, including the power to hire and fire employees, provide job assignments, set work schedules, and role as company principals”, and that “Prince and Maglio are individually liable, whether under an aiding or abetting theory [under NYCHRL 8-107(6)] or § 8-107(1).”

Turning to the issue of damages, the court – after citing and discussing damages awarded in comparable cases – found that an award of $25,000 was appropriate:

Laboy’s allegations that he suffered an anxiety attack, loss of appetite, insomnia, depression, mental strain and low self-esteem are, for the most part, generic and standing alone would not support a substantial award of emotional distress damages. There is no evidence that Laboy sought psychological or other medical treatment as a result of defendants’ actions, nor any indication of the duration of the negative consequences. On the other hand, the objective circumstances of Laboy’s treatment are disturbing, to say the least. Laboy states that he regularly was referred to as the N-word over a lengthy period of time. Even one racial epithet is inexcusable.

Considering the limited record of Laboy’s emotional distress together with the egregious discrimination he suffered, Laboy should be awarded the $25,000 he requested in emotional distress damages. This figure is well within the range of awards in comparable cases and appropriately compensates Laboy for “garden variety” emotional distress.

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