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ROBINSON v. INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEMS

January 25, 2000

ANGELA M. ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEMS, INC. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Motley, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Angela Robinson, brings this action against her former employer, Instructional Systems, Inc. ("ISI"), alleging discrimination on the basis of race and/or national origin, in the terms of her employment and termination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), the New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 296, and the Administrative Code of the City of New York § 8-107(a). Plaintiff claims that ISI discriminated against her by reassigning her and by failing to offer her a raise. Plaintiff further claims that ISI retaliated against her for having filed a complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and that as a result of her retaliatory termination, she was denied two weeks severance pay, two additional weeks of work, future per diem work, and the possibility of being rehired.

In a prior decision in this case, summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendant on all causes of action except the retaliation claims. Thereafter, the retaliation claims were heard before a jury. On January 7, 2000, the jury found that defendant had discriminated against plaintiff in retaliation for her having filed a complaint with the EEOC, in violation of Title VII and related State and Municipal laws. For the reasons discussed below, the court now enters a judgment, granting plaintiff prejudgment interest on the jury award, denying plaintiff's request for punitive damages, and granting plaintiff attorneys' fees.

BACKGROUND

A. Factual History

The basic facts of the underlying dispute in this matter are discussed in detail in prior opinions on this matter, Judge Wood's March 19, 1999 decision partially granting defendant's motion for summary judgment and Magistrate Judge Eaton's February 9, 1999 Report and Recommendation on summary judgment. The court therefore assumes familiarity with the prior decisions and their descriptions of the facts of this case.

Briefly, plaintiff Angela Robinson, an African-American female, is a former employee of defendant ISI, a New Jersey corporation that marketed educational software to the Human Resources Administration of the City of New York ("HRA"). Joint Pre-Trial Order at 3-4. While Ms. Robinson was employed with ISI, the founder and president of ISI was Phyllis Kaminer.*fn1 In April 1993, Robinson was hired by ISI as an educational training consultant to provide computer training services to HRA personnel. Joint Pre-Trial Order at 4. HRA declined to renew its contract with ISI and ceased payments to ISI in June 1994. Def. Rule 56.1 Stm't ¶¶ 35-40. In a failed attempt to induce HRA to renew its contract, ISI continued to send staff, including Ms. Robinson, to HRA for five months. Def. Rule 56.1 Stm't ¶¶ 37-39. In late 1994, ISI began laying off employees involved in HRA projects. During this period, Robinson was injured in a car accident unrelated to her employment. As a result of injuries incurred in the accident, Robinson was out of work on disability leave between August 26, 1994 and December 1, 1994. Joint Pre-Trial Order at 4. Upon her return to work, Robinson was primarily assigned to the Help Desk at ISI's headquarters in Hackensack, New Jersey.

On February 23, 1995, Ms. Robinson filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC in Newark, New Jersey, claiming that ISI had discriminated against her in the terms of her employment because of her race. On the morning of March 1, 1995, Ms. Kaminer met with Ms. Robinson, informing her that no further work was available for Ms. Robinson at ISI. Joint Pre-Trial Order at 5. Later that day, Ms. Kaminer received notice of Ms. Robinson's EEOC complaint. See id. Thereafter, Ms. Kaminer released Ms. Robinson without providing her with severance or termination benefits. Ms. Robinson was not subsequently rehired by ISI. In October 1996, Ms. Robinson obtained employment as a teacher for the City of New York.

B. Procedural History

Ms. Robinson's claims in this suit originally alleged discrimination in her employment as well as her termination. Compl. ¶¶ 29-46. However, in a decision dated March 19, 1999, Judge Wood granted summary judgment in favor of defendants as to all claims except Ms. Robinson's retaliatory termination claims. This case was then transferred to this court from Judge Wood on August 29, 1999.

A jury trial was held on the retaliatory termination claim from January 4, 2000 until January 7, 2000. After the four day trial, a jury found that defendant ISI had deprived Ms. Robinson of termination benefits in retaliation for plaintiff having filed a complaint with the EEOC. The jury found that Ms. Robinson was entitled to $1,500 for the loss of severance pay, $1,500 for the denial of two additional weeks of work, $14,000 for being deprived of the opportunity to be rehired, and $6,000 in compensatory damages for mental anguish. In all, the jury awarded Ms. Robinson $23,000 in damages. Once the jury entered a verdict finding defendant liable to the plaintiff for discrimination, the plaintiff requested that the jury be presented with a punitive damages charge and interrogatory. The court denied plaintiff's request.

In accordance with the discussion below, the court finds that plaintiff is entitled to prejudgment interest on the back pay and compensatory damage awards, that plaintiff is not eligible for an award of punitive damages, and that plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees with respect to the retaliatory termination claim.

ANALYSIS

I. PLAINTIFF IS ENTITLED TO ...


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