Sexual Harassment Default Judgment Upheld; “Law Office Failure” Argument Rejected

In Lopez v. Mama’s Fried Chicken, Inc., 2022 NY Slip Op 01124 (NY App. Div. 1st Dept. Feb. 22, 2022) – involving claims of failure to pay wages, sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation – the First Department unanimously affirmed a lower court’s Order denying defendant’s motion to vacate a default judgment entered in plaintiff’s favor.

Following an inquest, the Court issued a Decision awarding plaintiff a total of $540.760.72, comprising, among other things, $300,000 for emotional distress and $200,000 for punitive damages “for defendants’ outrageous conduct.”

In denying the motion to vacate, Justice Bluth explained:

Defendant only moved to vacate after plaintiff secured a damages award at an inquest. The implication from the timeline of events described above is that defendant waited until after plaintiff expended resources to secure a judgment before finally deciding to participate. The Court will not reward this type of litigation tactic. In essence, defendant wants to start the case from the beginning despite knowing about each step as it occurred. The Court declines to grant that relief. [Cleaned up.]

For its part, the First Department agreed that defendant failed to present a reasonable excuse for his failure to answer the amended complaint or to oppose the motion for entry of a default judgment, and held that the assertion of “law office failure” – even if it were preserved for appellate review – was unavailing, where as here “the record shows that defense counsel was fully aware of his obligations and intentionally and repeatedly failed to attend to them.”

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