Monday, March 19, 2018
Bergstein & Ullrich succeed in clarifying New York City punitive damages test
Damages under New York City’s Human Rights Law can be sought under a lower standard than under federal civil rights law—and a district court erred in not providing instructions to a jury for damages under the local law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in an opinion issued Friday.
Veronika Chauca won a wrongful termination suit against her former company and bosses at Park Management center in 2015. A jury awarded her $60,500 after finding the company discriminated against her because she was pregnant.
However, U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano of the Eastern District of New York denied Chauca’s request to instruct the jury on damages under the city’s Human Rights Law, stating that there was “no showing of malice, reckless indifference [or] that there was an intent to violate the law”—the standard for damages under the federal Civil Rights Act.
On appeal in a previous ruling, the circuit found state law had not clearly resolved the standards issue, and the question was posed to New York’s highest court as to what the exact guidelines are for punitive damages under the city’s Human Rights Law.
Last year, the court responded that the standard is whether the wrongdoer has engaged in discrimination with willful or wanton negligence, or recklessness, or a conscious disregard for the rights of others. This standard, the panel noted Friday, “expressly rejected the application of the federal standard,” as the city’s Human Rights Law requires neither a showing of malice nor awareness of the violation of a protected right, according to the Court of Appeals.
The panel of Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, and Circuit Judges Robert Sack and Peter Hall, then held that the district court was wrong in applying the higher federal standard on the jury instructions question, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
“This confirms that the city’s law is an entirely separate statute than Title VII, not only for liabilities but for damages,” said Bergstein & Ullrich name attorney Stephen Bergstein, who represented Chauca on appeal.
Private attorney Arthur Forman was counsel for the Park Management Systems defendants. He could not be reached for a statement.