The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
In what is apparently a case of first impression in this
circuit, this Court must decide whether, in a Title VII sexual
harassment case, a jury verdict of punitive damages can be
sustained where no compensatory damages were awarded.
This case concerns allegations of sexual harassment and
retaliation by the Plaintiff, Tonia Cush-Crawford, against the
Defendant, Adchem Corp. ("Adchem"). Following a trial, the jury
returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff on her claim of
hostile environment sexual harassment under Title VII, and a
verdict in favor of Adchem on the Plaintiff's claims of quid pro
quo sexual harassment and retaliation. The jury awarded no
compensatory damages to the Plaintiff on the hostile environment
claim, but awarded $100,000 in punitive damages against Adchem on
that claim. Presently before the Court are the Plaintiff's motion
for a new trial on damages pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 and for an
award of attorney's fees, and a motion by Adchem pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) to set aside the jury's verdict on the hostile
environment claim and the award of punitive damages.
Briefly stated, the Plaintiff alleges that, while employed at
Adchem, she suffered repeated unwelcome sexual advances and
comments from her supervisor, Collin Mars. The Plaintiff claims
that she repeatedly complained to Adchem about the advances, but
that no action was taken on her complaints. Eventually, the
Plaintiff was able to secure a transfer from Adchem's facilities
in Westbury, N.Y. to its plant in Riverhead, N.Y., and thus
escape Mars. However, she soon grew dissatisfied with the
Riverhead facility and asked to return to the Westbury plant.
Adchem returned the Plaintiff to Westbury, and to the supervision
of Mars, although the company did place an intermediate layer of
supervision between Mars and the Plaintiff. A few months later,
the Plaintiff suffered an unrelated on-the-job injury, and never
returned to Adchem.
A. As to Adchem's motion "to set aside the verdict"
Adchem's motion for judgment as a matter of law seeks to set
aside the jury's verdict in favor of the Plaintiff on the hostile
environment harassment claim and the award of punitive damages. A
court decides a motion for judgment as a matter of law under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1) using the same standard that applies to
motions for summary judgment. Alfaro v. WalMart Stores, Inc.,
210 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2000). Specifically, the motion must be
denied unless the court finds that there is such a complete
absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's
finding could only have been the result of sheer surmise and
conjecture, or if the evidence is so overwhelming that reasonable
and fair minded persons could only have reached the opposite
result. Ryduchowski v. Port Authority of New York,
203 F.3d 135, 141-42 (2d Cir. 2000); see also This Is Me, Inc. v.
Taylor, 157 F.3d 139 (2d Cir. 1998); Concerned Area Residents
for the Environment v. Southview Farm, 34 F.3d 114 (2nd Cir.
1994); Weldy v. Piedmont Airlines, 985 F.2d 57 (2d Cir. 1993).
In making this determination, the court is required to view the
evidence in the light most favorable to, to draw all reasonable
inferences in favor of, and to resolve all credibility disputes
to the benefit of the non-moving party — in this case, the
Plaintiff. Ryduchowski, 203 F.3d at 142; Martinelli v.
Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 196 F.3d 409, 425 (2d.
Cir. 1999); Stagl v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 117 F.3d 76, 79 (2d
1. The verdict on the hostile environment claim
To establish a claim for sexual harassment based on a hostile
working environment, a plaintiff must show that her workplace was
permeated with "discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and
insult" that is "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive
working environment." Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc.,
510 U.S. 17, 21, 114 S.Ct. 367, 126 L.Ed.2d 295 (1993); Quinn v. Green
Tree Credit Corp., 159 F.3d 759, 765 (2d Cir. 1998); Distasio
v. Perkin Elmer Corp., 157 F.3d 55, 62 (2d Cir. 1998). Whether
an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" depends on the totality
of circumstances. Harris, 510 U.S. at 23, 114 S.Ct. 367.
Courts must consider a variety of factors including "the
frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it
is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive
utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an
employee's work performance." Id. These factors must be
evaluated from both a subjective and an objective viewpoint.
Id. at 21-22, 114 S.Ct. 367. In addition, in order to hold her
employer liable for hostile environment harassment, a plaintiff
must also show that the conduct which created the hostile
environment should be imputed to the employer. Kotcher v. Rosa &
Sullivan Appliance Center, Inc., 957 F.2d 59, 63 (2d Cir. 1992).
However, employers are presumptively liable for all acts of
harassment perpetrated by an employee's supervisor. Burlington
Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 118 S.Ct. 2257, 141
L.Ed.2d 633, (1998); Faragher v. City of Boca Raton,
524 U.S. 775, 118 S.Ct. 2275, 141 L.Ed.2d 662 (1998), unless the employer
proves that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and
promptly correct any sexual harassment by such a supervisor, and
that the employee unreasonably failed to avail herself of any
corrective or preventative opportunities provided by the employer
or to otherwise avoid harm. Id.
While many of the facts in this case are in dispute, viewing
the evidence at trial in the light most favorable to the
Plaintiff, the Court finds that the jury could reasonably have
reached a verdict in her favor on the hostile environment claim.
The Plaintiff testified that, shortly after her hiring in June
1993, she was subjected to numerous unwelcome and upsetting
suggestive comments and advances from her supervisor, Collin
Mars. She testified that this behavior commenced almost
immediately after she was hired, when Mars began telling her how
beautiful she looked and would ask her to go to the gym with him
after work. She also testified that, when she turned down his
advances, Mars began complaining about her work performance.
Mars twice invited the Plaintiff on overnight trips to Toronto
and Boston. The Plaintiff initially declined the invitations, and
eventually agreed to go only because Mars would remind her that
he was responsible for evaluating her performance. On both trips,
Mars rented a single room for both of them to occupy, and
attempted to kiss and fondle the Plaintiff, saying he wanted to
make love to her. The Plaintiff rejected these advances and ended
both evenings in tears. Mars propositioned the Plaintiff for sex
a third time at a dinner with her mother on her birthday. In
addition, the Plaintiff testified that Mars made numerous
unwelcome comments about her appearance ...