$200,000 Emotional Distress Award in Sexual Harassment Case Against Brooklyn Maids 26, Inc. and Individual Defendant

In Antoine v. Brooklyn Maids 26, Inc. et al, 19-cv-5676, 2020 WL 5752186 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2020), the court, inter alia, awarded a sexual harassment plaintiff $200,000 in emotional distress damages (on default).

This case involves shocking allegations of harassment, including on one occasion conduct that the court described as “tantamount to rape.”

As to the specific sum, the court explained:

Although the court credits plaintiff’s testimony, her lack of corroboration must be acknowledged. Plaintiff did not offer any corroborating witnesses at the inquest. After the hearing, plaintiff’s counsel submitted a sealed affidavit from Ms. Liana Kaplan, a Domestic Violence Counselor at plaintiff’s shelter residence after March 2019. Although admissible, the Kaplan Affidavit is not entirely illuminating. Ms. Kaplan did not provide any diagnostic information about plaintiff’s mental or emotional condition, despite having treated her on four occasions. (Kaplan Aff. ¶ 8 (noting plaintiff’s shelter “does not make diagnoses”).) Instead, she merely relates plaintiff’s self-described medical conditions and history. Nor does the affidavit specifically connect plaintiff’s mental health difficulties to the events in question. Ms. Kaplan recalled plaintiff telling her that “she was experiencing increased anxiety and depression while she was at the [shelter],” and “specifically recall[ed] [plaintiff] saying that being forced to live in a shelter, along with her son, exacerbated her depression and anxiety.” (Id. ¶ 9.) But if plaintiff told Ms. Kaplan how Henestroza’s abuse led to her predicament, Ms. Kaplan neglected to state that in her affidavit. As a result, the affidavit is of minimal utility in connecting defendants’ conduct to plaintiff’s emotional distress, notwithstanding plaintiff’s own credible testimony at the inquest hearing.

In light of Mr. Henestroza’s egregious conduct, and having considered and credited plaintiff’s testimony, which is uncontested, the court awards emotional distress damages of $200,000. This award recognizes the shocking, likely criminal nature of Henestroza’s actions, and the credibly traumatic impact of those actions on plaintiff’s physical and mental well-being. Plaintiff credibly testified that Henestroza subjected her to an escalating pattern of abuse and threats. What began in the confines of Henestroza’s home, with extremely inappropriate remarks, laced with sexual innuendo and overtures, evolved to sexual assault, violent choking, and threats to plaintiff and her family’s lives. Henestroza’s sadistic conduct had a crippling effect on plaintiff, emotionally and mentally. She suffered stress, weight loss, sleeplessness, paranoia, depression, hopelessness, and fear.

At the same time, the award above also accounts for plaintiff’s lack of corroboration. Although Ms. Kaplan’s affidavit confirms that plaintiff resided at a domestic violence shelter with her son shortly after her final, violent encounter with Henestroza, there is no corroborating evidence regarding plaintiff’s mental health diagnoses, medications, and other factors that would support a more significant award of damages for emotional distress.

The court cited, as a “helpful guidepost,” the decision in Offei v. Omar, 2012 WL 2086294 (May 18, 2012), report and recommendation adopted, No. 11 Civ. 4283 (SAS) (MHD), 2012 WL 2086356 (S.D.N.Y. June 8, 2012).

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