Sexual Harassment Plaintiff’s Emotional Distress Damages Remitted to $75,000

In Legg et al v. Ulster County et al, 2022 WL 909045 (N.D.N.Y. March 29, 2022), the court, inter alia, held that the jury’s award of $200,000 to one sexual harassment plaintiff was excessive, and that under the facts of the case, a new trial would be granted unless they agreed to accept $75,000.

The court explained:

At trial, Plaintiff Watson testified that, after she started working with Divorl five nights per week, she “began to withdraw from [her] life” and from her children. See Dkt. No. 164 at 148. She testified that she began having “marital issues” because she “couldn’t talk to [her] husband.” See id. Plaintiff Watson further explained that she “became very depressed, very anxious,” had a hard time with “day-to-day life,” and hated going to work. See id. On cross-examination, Plaintiff Watson testified that she had “emotional problems” unrelated to her work as well. See id. at 149. She was prescribed Pristiq and Xanax because of her emotional distress related to work, and she stated that she received those medications “in relation to what was going on with [her] husband and [her] as a result of what was going on with [her].” See id. Notably, Plaintiff Watson did not submit any medical evidence to support these claims nor did any family members or friends testify to her condition. The jury awarded her $200,000 as compensation for her emotional distress on her § 1983 hostile work environment claim. See Dkt. No. 98.

Based on this testimony regarding Plaintiff Watson’s emotional distress, the Court finds that her emotional injuries were “garden variety,” thus falling within the $30,000 to $125,000 range for appropriate compensation. As such, the Court further finds that the jury’s $200,000 verdict for her emotional distress was excessive and shocks the judicial conscience. Defendant requests that Plaintiff Watson receive de minimis compensation for her emotional injuries amounting to no more than $30,000. See Dkt. No. 214. Plaintiff Watson, on the other hand, argues that the Court should not reduce the award any lower than $75,000, which is the amount that she accepted on remittitur on her Title VII claim. See Dkt. No. 215. Considering Plaintiff Watson’s emotional injuries, the lack of corroborative support, her $75,000 award on her nearly identical Title VII claim, and awards in this District to similar plaintiffs alleging § 1983 hostile work environment claims, the Court conditionally grants Defendant’s motion for a new trial limited to the issue of compensatory damages with respect to this claim unless Plaintiff Watson agrees to a remittitur reducing the award to $75,000.

Accordingly, the court conditionally granted defendant’s motion for a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages, unless plaintiff agrees to a remittitur of the compensatory damages award to $75,000 on her § 1983 hostile work environment claim.

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