Damage Award For Hostile Work Environment Held Excessive

In Reynolds v. State, No. 528410, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 00897, 2020 WL 572813 (N.Y.A.D. 3 Dept., Feb. 06, 2020), the court – after upholding a jury verdict in plaintiff’s favor on her hostile work environment/sexual harassment and negligent supervision claims – nevertheless found that the jury’s damage award was excessive.

The court summarized the legal standard for evaluating a jury’s damage award under these circumstances:

Turning to OPWDD’s challenge to the amount of damages awarded by the jury, “a court may set aside a jury award of damages when that award ‘deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation’ ” (Albanese v. Prozybylowicz, 116 AD3d 1216, 1217 [2014], quoting CPLR 5501[c]; accord Greblewski v. Strong Health MCO, LLC, 161 AD3d 1336, 1339 [2018]). “A challenge to damages will only be successful where the record evidence preponderates in favor of the moving party to such a degree that the verdict could not have been reached on any fair interpretation of the evidence” (O’Connor v. Kingston Hosp., 166 AD3d 1401, 1404 [2018] [internal quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted]; see Albanese v. Prozybylowicz, 116 AD3d at 1217).

*4 The jury awarded plaintiff $300,000 on the hostile work environment claims and $200,000 on the claim against OPWDD for negligent supervision. As relevant to these awards, the trial testimony of plaintiff and her husband established that, between November 2008 and December 2010, she suffered from panic attacks, became very anxious, sought mental health treatment and became a “zombie” on the medication that was prescribed to alleviate these symptoms. No allegation that plaintiff suffered physical injury was made. OPWDD acknowledges that an award for mental anguish injury based on lay testimony is permitted (see Matter of Cosmos Forms v. State Div. of Human Rights, 150 A.D.2d 442, 442 [1989]), but takes the position that the awarded damages are not reasonably related to the wrongdoing.

Applying the law, the court explained:

In light of the limited evidence of plaintiff’s psychological trauma and the lack of medical proof as to the effects of the sexual harassment and coworker retaliation upon her, we find that the award of damages on each claim deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation and is, therefore, excessive. Accordingly, the award for damages on the hostile work environment claims should be reduced to $150,000 and the award on the negligent supervision claim should be reduced to $100,000, for a total award of $250,000[.]