The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES ORENSTEIN, Magistrate Judge
For the reasons set forth below, based upon the jury's
verdicts, I direct the clerk to enter judgment in favor of
plaintiff Patrick S. Brady ("Brady") jointly and severally
against defendants Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart") and Yem
Hung Chin ("Chin") in the amount of $2,500,000 and against
defendant Wal-Mart alone in the additional amount of $300,002.
The portion of the judgment against Wal-Mart alone reflects a
total award of punitive damages of $300,000 on all of Brady's
proven claims against the company based on the statutory cap of
such damages in a single action, as well as nominal damages of
one dollar on each of two technical violations of the Americans
with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 29 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.,
alleged in Brady's complaint. The judgment does not include any
award of back pay or front pay. Finally, based on the jury's
verdicts, I direct the clerk to dismiss with prejudice Brady's
claims against defendant James Bowen ("Bowen").
In his amended complaint, docket entry ("DE") 33, Brady
asserted several claims against Wal-Mart, Chin, and Bowen based
on his experiences in applying for and then having a job as a
part-time sales associate at the Wal-Mart store in Centereach,
New York, in the summer of 2002. Briefly stated, Brady, who suffers from cerebral palsy, claimed
that Wal-Mart violated the ADA during the job application process
by making certain prohibited inquiries before extending a
conditional offer of employment, and then, after he was hired,
further violated the ADA, as well as the New York Human Rights
Law ("NYHRL"), N.Y Exec. L. § 296, by subjecting him to adverse
employment actions including subjecting him to unwanted
transfers, a hostile work environment, and constructive discharge
on the basis of a disability and by failing to provide a
reasonable accommodation for his disability. Brady also accused
two Wal-Mart employees pharmacist Chin and store manager Bowen
of having participated in the conduct giving rise to his claim
of disability discrimination. Brady further claimed that the
defendants' actions intentionally inflicted emotional distress
upon him, and also complained of Wal-Mart's alleged negligence in
hiring, supervising, and retaining employees. DE 33. By Order
dated February 16, 2005, the Honorable Leonard D. Wexler, United
States District Judge, granted in part and denied in part the
defendants' motions for summary judgment: Brady's claims alleging
negligent hiring, supervision, and retention were dismissed, and
the remaining claims alleging violations of the ADA and NYHRL and
intentional infliction of emotional distress were permitted to
proceed to trial. DE 76.
Judge Wexler selected a jury on February 14, 2005. DE 66. All
of the parties subsequently consented to the referral of this
case to a magistrate judge for all purposes including the entry
of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. DE 67. I then presided over the
jury trial, which began on February 16, 2005, and concluded when
the jury returned its verdicts on February 23, 2005. The jury found in favor of Brady on several of his causes of
action and in favor of the defendants on others. Specifically, on
the main charge of disability discrimination, the jury found that
Brady proved that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA
(the defendants stipulated that he was disabled within the
meaning of the state law), and that Wal-Mart subjected him to two
adverse employment actions on the basis of his disability:
transferring Brady from the pharmacy department to a position
pushing carts in the parking lot, and creating a hostile work
environment. The jury did not find that Brady had proved two
other adverse employment actions: a transfer from the parking lot
to a position in the food department, and constructive discharge.
The jury found that Chin participated in the discrimination but
did not find the same with respect to Bowen. The jury further
found that Wal-Mart had a duty to offer Brady a reasonable
accommodation for his disability but failed to do so, but
rejected Brady's claim that any of the defendants intentionally
inflicted emotional distress.
On Brady's claims relating to the job application process, the
jury found that Wal-Mart did not violate the ADA with respect to
inquiries about prescription medications, but found that the
company did violate the ADA by including a prohibited inquiry in
its job description form. The latter verdict was entered at my
direction: based on my legal rulings made over Wal-Mart's
objections, the parties agreed that the record required the jury
to find the violation with respect to the job description form.
The jury awarded Brady $9,114 in economic damages based on his
loss of back pay, $2.5 million in compensatory damages based on
the emotional trauma to which Brady attested, and nominal damages
of one dollar apiece on his reasonable accommodation and job
application process claims. The jury also awarded Brady punitive
damages on each claim that it found he had proved. Specifically, it awarded $4.5 million on the claim of
disability discrimination based on adverse employment actions,
$250,000 on the claim of failure to provide a reasonable
accommodation, and $250,000 on the claim of a prohibited inquiry
in the application process. To guard against overlapping awards,
I asked the jury to specify the total amount of punitive damages
is wished to award; the response was a total of $5 million. I did
not solicit a verdict from the jury with respect to the equitable
relief of front pay.
Both sides now seek to have me enter a judgment that differs in
some respects from the jury's verdicts on damages. With respect
to the largest part of the awards, the parties agree that the
relevant statutes forbid the full award of $5 million that the
jury unanimously decided was a proper punishment for Wal-Mart's
proven misconduct. They differ, however, as to how the award
should be reduced. Wal-Mart contends that I can award no more
than a single payment of $300,000 for all of the proven claims.
DE 103. Brady argues that there are two distinct claims that can
be the subject of separate awards: while he agrees that the
awards on the adverse employment action and
failure-to-accommodate claims must be merged into a single award
of $300,000 in punitive damages, he asserts that the award of
$250,000 for the prohibited job application inquiry was a
separate violation of the ADA and may therefore form the basis of
a separate award. He therefore seeks a total of $550,000 in
punitive damages. DE 101. With respect to back pay and front pay,
the defendants assert that neither is appropriate. DE 103 at 49-.
Brady disagrees, and requests an evidentiary hearing to determine
the amount of front pay that should be awarded. DE 101 at 4-5. II. Discussion
A. Compensatory and Punitive Damages
1. Damages Under Federal and State Law
The applicable provisions of federal law allow a successful
plaintiff such as Brady to recover both compensatory and punitive
damages, but limits such recovery to $300,000 for each
complaining party where, as here, the defendant had more than 500
employees during the relevant time period.
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D); see DE 103 at 2. New York's law does not permit
any recovery of punitive damages in such cases, but places no
limitation on the amount of compensatory damages a successful
plaintiff may recover. N.Y. Exec. Law § 297(9); see Weissman v.
Dawn Joy Fashions, Inc., 214 F.3d 224, 235 (2d Cir. 2000)
(citing Thoreson v. Penthouse Int'l, Ltd., 80 N.Y.2d 490
(1992)); Greenway v. Buffalo Hilton Hotel, 951 F.Supp. 1039,
1057 (W.D.N.Y. 1997), aff'd in part, 143 F.3d 47 (2d Cir.
2. Punitive Damages The Federal Statutory Cap
Because applicable state law does not provide for punitive
damages at all, Brady may recover the punitive damages awarded by
the jury only to the extent consistent with 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.
Several courts have held that the § 1981a damages cap applies in
the aggregate to all of a plaintiff's claims. For example, after
a jury in the Western District of New York awarded an ADA
plaintiff compensatory damages in the amount of $420,300 on
plaintiff's claims of discrimination and retaliation, the court
reduced the award to $300,000 on the ground that the plain
meaning of the text of § 1981a required that result. Muller v.
Costello, 997 F.Supp. 299, 303 (W.D.N.Y. 1998), aff'd,
187 F.3d 298 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Hudson v. Reno, 130 F.3d 1193
(6th Cir. 1997); Fogg v. Ashcroft, 254 F.3d 103 (D.C. Cir.
2001) (citations omitted); Baty v. Williamette Indus., Inc., 172 F.3d 1232 (10th
Cir. 1999), overruled on other grounds by Nat'l R.R. Passenger
Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 116-117 (2002).
Brady seeks to distinguish such case law on the basis of three
decisions: Robertson Oil Company, Inc. v. Phillips Petroleum
Co., 871 F.2d 1368,1376 (8th Cir. 1989); Mason v. Oklahoma
Turnpike Authority, 115 F.3d 1442, 1459-60 (10th Cir. 1997); and
Atchley v. Nordam Group, Inc., 180 F.3d 1143, 1152 (10th Cir.
1999). However, as Brady concedes, all three of the cited cases
arose in "other contexts," DE 101 at 4, and I find that none of
the opinions overcomes the reasoning of cases such as Muller or
allows a court to disregard the clear meaning of the federal
statute. The underlying theme in the cited cases is that separate
awards of punitive damages are appropriate where a plaintiff
asserts separate claims that require varying standards of proof.
But in this case, unlike those Brady cites, the only law
permitting the plaintiff to recover the jury's award of punitive
damages is the ADA. In particular, the jury did not find ...