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Sonia Dotson v. the City of Syracuse

September 28, 2012

SONIA DOTSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF SYRACUSE, THE CITY OF SYRACUSE POLICE DEPARTMENT, FORMER CHIEF OF POLICE DENNIS DUVAL, SGT. TIMOTHY GAY, MARK MCCARDLE*FN1 , PATRICK HARRINGTON, MICHAEL RATHBUN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Sonia Dotson brought this employment action against defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983; and the N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 ("New York Human Rights Law" or "NYHRL"). After a five-day trial in February 2010, a jury found that, after plaintiff complained about pornography in the workplace, defendants retaliated against her by requisitioning and listening to recordings of telephone calls plaintiff placed from work to her husband and Sergeant Rutha DeJesus.*fn2 During these telephone conversations, plaintiff complained about being given a hard time because she did not document her medical absence properly and about pornographic movies and magazines in the workplace.*fn3 The jury awarded plaintiff $175,000.00 in compensatory damages against the City of Syracuse; $125,000.00 in compensatory damages against defendant Timothy Gay; and $150,000.00 in compensatory damages against Mark McArdle. On March 2, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs. Dkt. No. 118. Defendants opposed the motion and cross moved, inter alia, for the following relief: (1) judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; or (2) a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; or (3) an Order amending or altering the judgment and jury verdict for compensatory damages. Dkt. No. 122. The Court granted plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $48,002.59, denied defendants' motion for judgment of a matter of law and denied defendants' motion for a new trial. Dkt. No. 143. The Court, however, granted defendants' motion for remittitur and advised plaintiff that unless she accepted an award of compensatory damages in the amount of $50,000 it would hold a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages. Dkt. No. 143. Plaintiff advised the Court that she objected to the proposed remittitur and would "proceed on a new trial on damages." Dkt. No. 145.

The second trial began on November 15, 2011. Three witnesses testified on plaintiff's behalf: plaintiff; her husband, Lonnie Dotson, and Rutha DeJesus. Defendants presented no witnesses. During the charge conference, plaintiff's attorneys, A.J. Bosman, Esq. and Norman Deep, Esq. and defendants' attorney, Mary Ann Doherty, Esq., agreed that the jury would be asked to decide the amount of compensatory damages to which plaintiff was entitled but that it would not be asked to divide the damages among the three defendants. They further agreed that following the verdict, the Court would apportion the compensatory damages among defendants utilizing the liability percentages found by the first jury:

MR. DEEP: That's why I'm agreeing with you that you should set the percentage and you should do it. How is it different if there's three --

THE COURT: But your co-counsel doesn't want to do that.

MR. DEEP: No, she just said she would if they stipulate to that. Correct, if they stipulate to those percentages?

MS. BOSMAN: Right. I don't have a problem with having one lump sum award for her injury, and then you apportioning it in accordance with the prior jury's determination as long as counsel will stipulate to that.

MS. DOHERTY: Is this going to be on the verdict sheet?

THE COURT: Well, all the verdict sheet would be is what do you find plaintiff should be compensated for as result of the retaliation, what damages do you find she should be compensated for for her emotional distress.

MS. DOHERTY: That's it. Yeah, I'm fine with that. And then after the fact you would apportion it according to -- if her counsel sought an appeal or whatever?

THE COURT: I'll apportion just the way it was apportioned by the jury in the first trial.

MS. DOHERTY: But there's just going to be the one line.

THE COURT: The one line.

MS. DOHERTY: I agree with that.

Transcript, p.201. Based on the parties' stipulation, the Court removed the instruction regarding "multiple defendants" from the jury charge, Transcript, p. 204, and submitted a verdict sheet with one question to the jury: "What amount do you award plaintiff in compensatory damages against defendants?" Dkt. No. 191.

On November 16, 2011, the jury awarded plaintiff $225,000 in compensatory damages. On November 16, 2011, the Court entered judgment reflecting the jury's award of $225,000. Dkt. No. 192. In a letter dated November 17, 2011, plaintiff requested that the court amend the amended judgment to reflect the parties' stipulation that the damages would be apportioned among defendants in accordance with the relative percentages applied by the first jury:

Plaintiff respectfully requests that the Judgment be again amended to accurately reflect the award against each Defendant. The amended Judgment does not reflect the stipulation of the parties and the Court that the damages would be apportioned in accordance with the relative percentages as applied by the first jury. I believe the amounts break down as follows: $87,500.00 (Defendant City of Syracuse); $75,000.00 (Defendant McArdle); and $62,500.00 (Defendant Gay).

Dkt. No. 193. In a letter dated December 5, 2011, defendants responded that the "amounts in Plaintiff's letter correctly states the percentages". Dkt. No. 200. Accordingly, on December 8, 2011, the Court entered: (1) a Text Order granting plaintiffs' "Letter Request to amend the judgment" and directing the Clerk of the Court "amend[] the judgment to reflect the stipulation of the parties regarding compensatory damages"; and (2) an ...


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