Court Explains Remittitur of $624,000 Emotional Distress Damages Award to $125,000 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 $624,000 for compensatory/emotional distress damages was too high, and that $125,000 was more appropriate. To do this, the court employed the procedural mechanism of “remittitur.”

After explaining the legal standard for evaluating emotional distress damages, the court explained the basis for its decision:

Here, Plaintiff testified that, between 2009 and 2014, Quinones’s comments about her hearing disability made her “worried and unable to sleep” on the night before Wednesday staff meetings; caused her to feel anxious the “whole day” on Wednesdays; and continued to cause her anxiety on Thursday mornings.7 (Tr. at 865-66) Plaintiff also testified that – beginning in 2011 – she suffered feelings of lower self-esteem, headaches, stomach aches, and panic attacks. (Id. at 775) In 2014, Plaintiff’s anxiety “increased,” such that she would feel anxious all day on Thursdays. (Id. at 866-67) Duarte also testified that she currently experiences difficulty sleeping, “depressing time[s], anxiety, [and] panic attacks” (id. at 870), as well as decreased self-esteem. (Id. at 871)

Plaintiff’s vague and subjective complaints of insomnia, lower self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and stomach aches and headaches – unsupported by medical corroboration – establish no more than “garden variety” emotional distress. [Citing cases] …

Moreover, “[t]here was no evidence … of an inability to apply for a new position or to enjoy life in general,” and “Plaintiff’s failure to seek mental health treatment … is consistent with [the] finding that Plaintiff suffered no long-term emotional distress as a result of Defendant’s conduct.”9 Bouveng, 175 F.Supp.3d at 330.

The Court concludes that Plaintiff’s testimony establishes only “garden variety” emotional distress.

It held that the jury’s award of $624,000 was excessive, but also rejected defendant’s proposed damage figure of $30,000, concluding:

Given Plaintiff’s testimony that (1) she suffered anxiety and sleeplessness much of the time between 2009 and August 2014; (2) she suffered headaches, stomach aches, and a loss of self-esteem during the period between 2011 and August 2014; and (3) some of these symptoms persist to the present; and given Torres’s limited corroborating testimony, an award of $125,000 – the top of the “garden variety” range – does not “materially deviate” from compensatory awards in comparable cases.

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