Friday, March 28, 2014

First Department upholds huge discrimination verdict

If you engage in employment discrimination, it will cost you money. In this case, a restaurant discriminated against one of its employees because of her religion and sexual orientation. The jury awarded the plaintiff $1.6 million, comprised of $400,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress, and $1.2 million in punitive damages. The First Department affirms.

The case is Salemi v Gloria's Tribeca Inc., decided on March 20. The court sums up the case:

[P]laintiff's employer, defendant Edward Globokar, the principal of Gloria's Tribecamex Inc., which owned the restaurant where plaintiff worked as chef and manager, discriminated against her based on her religion and sexual orientation by, amongst other things, holding weekly prayer meetings at the restaurant where plaintiff worked which the staff viewed as mandatory, fearing that they would lose their jobs if they did not attend, repeatedly stating that homosexuality is "a sin," and that "gay people" were "going to go to hell" and generally subjecting her to an incessant barrage of offensive anti-homosexual invective (see NYC Admin Code § 8-107[a]). Additional evidence demonstrated that as a result of Globokar's improper conduct, plaintiff was retaliated against for objecting to his offensive comments, choosing not to attend workplace prayer meetings, and refusing to fire another employee because of his sexual orientation (see NYC Admin Code § 8-107[7]; Fletcher v The Dakota, Inc., 99 AD3d 43, 51-53 [1st Dept 2012]), and was constructively discharged.
The employer raised a First Amendment defense. That must have comprised part of his argument on appeal. The First Department says the employer got a fair trial, though. The trial court "instruct[ed] the jury that he had 'a right to express his religious beliefs and practice his religion, provided that he does not discriminate against his employees based on religion or sexual orientation.'" The Court also observes that "[d]efendants' argument that, in order to protect Globokar's right to express his religious views, the trial court should have also charged the jury on the substance of City HRL § 8-107(2)(d)(3), is similarly meritless, since this provision is designed to avail victims of employment discrimination, not perpetrators of discrimination."

This decision upholds the jury verdict, but it does not give much insight into why, other than to say that it does not materially deviate from awards in similar cases. It adds that "[g]iven the extensive evidence of defendants' discriminatory conduct, we do not find that the punitive damages award was grossly excessive." 

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