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Port Authority Police Asian Jade Society of New York & New Jersey Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

January 13, 2010

THE PORT AUTHORITY POLICE ASIAN JADE SOCIETY OF NEW YORK & NEW JERSEY INC., CHRISTIAN ENG, NICHOLAS YUM, ALAN LEW, HOWARD CHIN, DAVID LIM, GEORGE MARTINEZ, STANLEY CHIN, MILTON FONG, RICHARD WONG, SANRIT BOONCOME AND MICHAEL CHUNG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cedarbaum, J.

OPINION

Plaintiffs sue the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Port Authority") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, for discriminating against Asian-American officers in making promotions to Sergeant. The jury trial began on March 11, 2009, and the jury returned its verdict on March 26, 2009. The Port Authority now moves for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, for a new trial or for a remittitur of the jury's compensatory damages award. For the following reasons, the Port Authority's motion is denied in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

I. The Parties

The Port Authority is a bi-state agency created by compact between the States of New York and New Jersey to develop transportation facilities in the New York metropolitan area. The Port Authority's thirteen facilities are policed by the Port Authority's Public Safety Department.

The plaintiffs are eleven Asian-American members of the Port Authority Public Safety Department. All of the plaintiffs began their careers with the Department as Officers. Christian Eng was hired in 1977, David Lim in 1980, Richard Wong in 1983, Milton Fong in 1985, Howard Chin and Alan Lew in 1987, and Stanley Chin in 1988. George Martinez and Nicholas Yum joined in 1993, and both Michael Chung and Sanrit Booncome in 1999.

The Port Authority Police Asian Jade Society of New York and New Jersey ("Asian Jade Society") is a fraternal organization of Port Authority Police officers of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. Each plaintiff is a member of the Asian Jade Society.

II. The Port Authority's Promotion Process

The entry-level rank in the Public Safety Department is Officer. To be eligible for promotion to Sergeant, a police officer must have served two years as an officer or detective as of the date of the Sergeant's Examination, meet certain attendance requirements, and pass the examination. Beginning in 1996, all officers who passed were equally eligible for promotion without regard to their score. Once the exam was scored, a list of officers eligible for promotion was circulated.

The commanding officers of the various facilities were charged with recommending eligible officers for promotion. Some commanding officers made the recommendations themselves, while others delegated full authority to the officers' direct supervisors. Still others made the recommendations themselves after receiving advice from the direct supervisors.

The Public Safety Department had no set criteria or protocol for recommendation for promotion. The factors relevant to promotion and the weight assigned to those factors varied among the commanding officers. An officer's supervisor or commanding officer completed a "Performance Appraisal Form" only after selecting that officer to be recommended for promotion. The form required the supervisor to rate the officer on a scale from "unacceptable (clearly below standard)" to "outstanding (among the very best)."

From 1996 to 2001, the next step in the promotion process was the so-called Chiefs' Board, at which the chiefs and deputy chiefs would review the promotion folders of the officers recommended for promotion. During Superintendent Morrone's tenure, no minutes or notes were taken of meetings of the Chiefs' Board. Chief Farrell testified that during that time, the chiefs of each command advocated for the candidates put forth from that command. (Trial Tr. 194, March 13, 2009.) The Chiefs' Board then decided which officers to recommend to the Superintendent, who made the final decision.

Chief Morris assumed the role of Acting Superintendent shortly after Superintendent Morrone was killed on September 11, 2001. Instead of using a Chiefs' Board, he solicited recommendations for promotions from deputy chiefs, who in turn asked the assistant chiefs to collect recommendations from the commanding officers of each facility. Once the recommendations were made, the assistant chiefs decided among themselves which officers to recommend to the deputy chiefs. The deputy chiefs then reviewed those and made recommendations to Chief Morris for promotion.

Charles DeRienzo became the Superintendent of Police in April 2002. He reinstituted a Chiefs' Board comprised of all chiefs and the Acting Superintendent, but excluded himself and Chief Morris. At these meetings, the chiefs voted after every candidate was discussed. Officers receiving a majority in favor of promotion were recommended to the Superintendent. A memorandum listed the officers recommended for promotion and those not recommended with the reason why they were not recommended, and, on occasion, the tally of votes for and against each officer.

Superintendent Plumeri again changed the process when he succeeded Superintendent DiRienzo in 2004. He did away with the Chiefs' Board and made promotion decisions without formal input from the chiefs.

III. Procedural History

Before 2001, no Asian-American officer had ever been promoted to Sergeant. On January 31, 2001 the Asian Jade Society, on behalf of its members, filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The Asian Jade Society received a Right to Sue letter on January 25, 2005. On April 15, 2005, the Asian Jade Society and the individual plaintiffs filed the Complaint in this case. The Complaint alleges that the Port Authority intentionally discriminated against Asian-Americans in making promotions to Sergeant, that the Port Authority had a pattern or practice of intentionally discriminating against Asian-Americans in making promotions to Sergeant, and that the Port Authority's practices for promotion to Sergeant had a disparate impact on Asian-American officers.

After hearing all the evidence, the jury found that the Port Authority's promotion practices for Sergeant had a disparate impact upon Asian-American police officers. The jury also found that the Port Authority had a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against Asian-American police officers, and that plaintiffs Christian Eng, Milton Fong, Alan Lew, Stanley Chin, Nicholas Yum, George Martinez, and David Lim had been discriminated against as a part of this pattern or practice. In addition, the jury found that the Port Authority's decision not to promote those officers was motivated by their ethnicity.

The jury returned a verdict that Howard Chin, Richard Wong, Michael Chung, and Sanrit Booncome had not proven that they were discriminated against either as part of the Port Authority's pattern or practice of discrimination or individually. The jury awarded back pay and compensatory damages only to Christian Eng, Milton Fong, Alan Lew, Stanley Chin, Nicholas Yum, George Martinez, and David Lim.

The Port Authority now moves for judgment as a matter of law overturning the jury's verdict for the successful plaintiffs. It also moves in the alternative for a new trial, or a remittitur.

DISCUSSION

IV. The Port Authority's Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law or a New Trial

A. Standard of Review

1. Rule 50(b) Motion for Judgment as a ...


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