Punishing Unlawful Employers – Juries Say #MeToo
The effects of the #MeToo movement have reached almost all corners of our lives, and the courtroom has been no exception. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the national agency that administers and enforces laws against workplace discrimination, recently published telling statistics. In the past year it has received over 7,500 sexual harassment claims – a 12% jump over the prior year. During that same period, on behalf of sexual harassment victims, the EEOC recovered $70 million, a 67% increase.
Similarly, in Massachusetts, there is evidence that employment discrimination cases have been impacted by #MeToo. Juries are awarding punitive damages, meant to punish wrongdoers and deter future unlawful conduct, at a much higher frequency and in much higher amounts than ever before. According to one survey, Massachusetts juries deciding employment discrimination cases issue, on average, one punitive damage award over $600,000 per year. Since October 2017, however, Massachusetts juries have issued six, including one for $25 million – the highest such award in Massachusetts history.
The following decisions by Massachusetts courts highlight the awards being issued in counties across the Commonwealth, to victims in all walks of life:
- Roosa v. Central Motors, Inc. of Norwood, et al., C.A. No. 16-2369 (Suffolk Superior Court; Verdict – Aug. 28, 2018)
A former employee brought claims against Central Motors of Norwood, Inc., the dealership’s owner, and her supervisor for gender discrimination / sexual harassment in violation of Chapter 151B, failure to pay wages and retaliatory discharge in violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act.
The employee worked as a salesperson at Central Motors of Norwood, Inc. between 2012 and 2014, She alleged that her manager regularly engaged in crude and offensive behavior, including: frequently commenting on the physical appearance of female customers; routinely referring to female employees as “old bags,” f*cking c*nts,” or “in menopause”; and constantly discussing his sexual behavior and preferences. On one occasion, when the employee ran an errand across the street, her manager told her to “bring back a blow job.”
She also alleged that the owner of Central Motors of Norwood, Inc., also her manager’s brother, was aware of the unlawful conduct but took no action to remedy the behavior. According to her complaint, the employee was fired when she raised concerns about her right to certain commissions.
The jury returned a verdict for the Defendants on the employee’s claims for retaliatory discharge. However, the jury found in favor of the employee on her claims for sexual harassment, and awarded her:
- $3,000,000 in punitive damages.
- Racow v. Town of Winthrop, C.A. No. 14-3200 (Suffolk Superior Court; Verdict – March 22, 2018)
A current employee in the Winthrop Police Department brought claims against the Town of Winthrop, its Chief of Police, Town Manager, and Director of Winthrop’s Department of Public Works, for gender discrimination and retaliation for her opposition to such conduct in violation of Chapter 151B.
The employee joined the force as a uniformed police officer in 1993, and in 1995 she became the first female detective. In May 2006, she was removed from the detective assignment and replaced by two male officers. She filed a charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which she resolved in early 2007. Thereafter, she alleged she was treated differently than her male colleagues, including: being twice investigated by an outside investigator, denied assignments to which she was entitled based on rank and seniority, excluded from mandatory training, and forced into less favorable and lucrative assignments and shifts.
The jury returned a verdict for the Plaintiff for gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation. She was awarded:
- $676,000 in compensatory damages (e., emotional distress and lost wages/benefits), and
- $1,352,000 in punitive damages.
- Toussaint v. Brigham & Women’s Hospital, et al., C.A. No. 14-2253 (Suffolk Superior Court; Verdict – May 23, 2018)
An African American female former employee, brought claims against Brigham & Women’s Hospital, her former supervisor, and the hospital’s Nurse Director for race discrimination and retaliation for her opposition to such conduct in violation of Chapter 151B.
The employee was hired as a registered nurse in 1999, and from 2005 forward, worked in the Orthopedics Unit. In or about March 2013, the employee witnessed an altercation between a fellow African American female nurse and a doctor. An investigation was conducted by the Nurse Director, and the employee was interviewed and testified truthfully in support of her fellow nurse. Thereafter, she alleged, the Nurse Director targeted her with numerous investigations of alleged poor patient care. At one point, she was required to take a competency test usually only given to newly hired nurses and attained a perfect score. Ultimately, she resigned.
The jury returned a verdict for the Defendants on her discrimination claims. But the jury found in the employee’s favor on retaliation, holding both Brigham and Women’s Hospital and her supervisor liable. She was awarded:
- $176,000 in back pay,
- $287,000 in front pay,
- $2,750,000 in emotional distress damages, and
- $25,000,000 in punitive damages.
- Duda v. Baystate Medical Practices, C.A. No. 15-679 (Hampden Superior Court; Verdict – June 18, 2018)
A former employee brought claims against Baystate Medical Practices, Inc., formerly Baystate Medical Education and Research Foundation, Inc., for discrimination based on his age and his disability, i.e., cerebral palsy in violation of Chapter 151B.
The employee was hired as a pediatric pulmonologist in 1992. In or about the Fall of 2013, the employee’s department received two new supervisors. He alleged, these new supervisors undertook a campaign to force him out due to his age and disability and refused to provide him with reasonable accommodations. On one occasion, he alleged, a supervisor noted to human resources that the “majority of his health issues seem to be from his increasing frailty with age and underlying health condition.”
The jury returned a verdict for the Defendants on the age discrimination claims. However, the jury found in favor of the employee on his claim for disability discrimination, and awarded him:
- $575,241.83 in back pay,
- $197,528.25 in front pay, and
- $1,146,812.38 in punitive damages.
- Beresford v. Charles River Automotive, et al., C.A. No. 15-01182 (Norfolk Superior Court; Verdict – December 21, 2017)
A former employee brought claims against Charles River Automotive, LLC, and his former supervisor for discrimination based on his age in violation of Chapter 151B.
The employee was hired in 1988 and worked as a mechanic at the same garage until his termination by the Defendants in July 2014. In or about August 2013, Charles River Automotive, LLC purchased the garage at which the employee worked and assigned him to report to a new supervisor. Thereafter, the employee alleged, his new supervisor made a series of ageist remarks, including: referring to the employee as “old timer,” and saying to him “You old timers need to get your glasses checked,” and asking about another older employee “is he too old?”
The jury returned a verdict for the employee on age discrimination and awarded him:
- $317,779.88 in back pay,
- $285,000 in front pay, and
- $602,779.88 in punitive damages.
- DaPrato v. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, C.A. No. 15-03687 (Suffolk Superior Court; Verdict – March 22, 2018)
A former employee brought claims against the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for requesting a reasonable accommodation for his handicap in violation of Chapter 151B, and in retaliation for taking/requesting leave in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).
The employee served as a Data Resource Manager for more than ten years. About one year before his eventual termination, the employee suffered from neuroma nerve tremors in his feet, causing, among other things, severe pain, burning, swelling, and numbness. As a result, the employee requested a series of reasonable accommodations from the Defendant, including a medical leave (which qualified as FMLA leave) to receive treatment. Upon his return, the employee contacted his employer to make arrangements for a future FMLA leave to receive additional treatment. Thereafter, he was terminated on what the employee alleged were a series of pretextual justifications.
The jury returned a verdict for the Plaintiff on all his claims. He was awarded:
- $19,777 in back pay;
- $300,000 in front pay;
- $200,000 in emotional distress damages; and
- $715,385 in punitive damages.