Court Upholds $700k Emotional Distress Damages Jury Verdict in Sex Discrimination Case

In Tese-Milner v. ATCO Properties & Management, Inc., No. 113902/2007, 2020 WL 6591380 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Nov. 10, 2020), a sex discrimination case, the court, inter alia, upheld a jury verdict of $700,000 in emotional distress/pain and suffering damages.

In rendering its decision, the court outlined the evidence relating to the merits, as well as to the harm plaintiff suffered:

Here, as noted above, Beglin told Velasquez that she was “working a man’s position”, and that he did not like women working for him (Tr. 139); although she had fibroid tumors, her coworkers refused to relieve her at the desk when she needed to use the bathroom, causing her to have numerous accidents and, when she complained to Hemmerdinger, Chairman of the Board of ATCO, he told her that she could be replaced because she was a woman, that she was not performing her duties sufficiently, and that he needed male employees behind the desk (Tr. 128-129, 148-150); her male co-workers called her a “bitch”, a “whore”, and a “cunt” (Tr. 266, 277, 285, 370-371); a male co-worker climbed under her desk and tried to reach up her skirt (Tr. 261); a male co-worker repeatedly rubbed her breasts and, when she reported the co-worker to Beglin, he called her a “bitchy complainer” (Tr. 378-380); a male co-worker asked her whether she “want[ed] some nuts in [her] mouth” (Tr. 377-378); a male co-worker told her that she had “big tits” (Tr. 372); when certain female tenants walked by, a male co-worker said they “smelled like fish down there” or told Velasquez that the tenants’ breasts were bigger than hers (Tr. 373); a male co-worker asked Velasquez to “[l]et [him] suck [her] breast” (Tr. 260); a male co-worker told Velasquez that “he was going to eat [her] private part” (Tr. 288); a male co-worker exposed himself to Velasquez and asked her to crush some ice in her mouth and give him a blowjob (Tr. 263-265); a male co-worker masturbated in front of her (Tr. 297-298); a male co-worker told her she looked “hot” and “sexy” (Tr. 372-373); and, after complaining to Beglin about Henry Caban (“Caban”), one of her co-workers, Caban exposed himself to Velasquez and told her that “he was going to choke [her with his penis] the next time [she went] to [Beglin].” Tr. 268.

It is this Court’s opinion that the foregoing conduct, which was essentially an ongoing barrage of acts of a graphic sexual nature, threats, intimidation, and indifference to Velasquez’s mental and/or medical condition, constitutes conduct far more egregious than that in Automatic Meter Reading, Belton, and Albunio and that the award of $700,000 for compensatory damages should thus be sustained. Plaintiff’s expert Dr. Chen found that Velasquez was depressed a result of losing her job and that she had unsuccessfully attempted to hang herself with a belt and that she had “a precipitous decline in functioning” since being fired. Dr. Chen concluded, within a reasonable degree of clinical psychological certainty, that Velasquez’s mistreatment “had an impact on the decline in her functioning” and that she experienced a “domino effect” in which her loss of employment led to significant financial strain, medical treatment, and problems with her fiancee. Id. at 93-96.

Defendants’ expert Dr. Kleinman admitted that Velasquez was “clinically significantly depressed” after she was terminated. Although he found that she had significant stressors other than those arising from her employment, he opined that her depression, anxiety and physical illness were manifestations of her anger following her termination.

Since plaintiff’s expert and defendants’ expert agreed that that Velasquez had a great deal of emotional suffering as a result of her termination, this Court declines to disturb the jury’s award of $700,000 for pain and suffering.

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