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Elijah Turley v. Isg Lackawanna

January 11, 2013

ELIJAH TURLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ISG LACKAWANNA, INC., ISG LACKAWANNA, LLC, MITTAL STEEL USA LACKAWANNA INC., MITTAL STEEL USA INC., D/B/A ARCELOR-MITTAL STEEL, LARRY D. SAMPSELL, GERALD C. MARCHAND, THOMAS JAWORSKI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

II. BACKGROUND.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

A. Facts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

B. Procedural History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

III. DISCUSSION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

A. Rule 50(b) & 59 Standards .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

B. Defendants' Motion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

1. Parent-Corporation Liability. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

2. Corporate & Individual Liability - Title VII, § 1981, and NYHRL .. . . . . . . . . . 15

3. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

4. Verdict Form & Jury Charge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

5. Passion and Prejudice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

6. Compensatory Damages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

7. Punitive Damages .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

a. Degree of Reprehensibility .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

b. Ratio .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

c. Sanctions for Comparable Conduct . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

C. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

1. Attorney Rates .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42

2. Time Expended . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

IV. CONCLUSION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

V. ORDERS.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

I. INTRODUCTION

After several weeks of trial in this employment-discrimination case, a properly-empaneled, eight-member jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, Elijah Turley. The trial was bifurcated between liability and damages, and, at the close of the second installment, the same jury awarded Turley a total of $1,320,000 in compensatory damages and $24,005,000 in punitive damages.

Turley's former employer, his former supervisors there, and its parent company-the Defendants in this case-now move for judgment as a matter of law, or for a new trial under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) and 59. Defendants argue that the evidence presented at trial does not support any part of the jury's verdict, including its finding that Arcelor Mittal USA Inc. ("AM USA")-the corporate parent-and its local subsidiary, ArccelorMIttal Lackawanna LLC, ("Lackawanna"), constituted a single employer.*fn1 Barring judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, they seek a reduction in the amount of damages.

Turley opposes Defendants' motion and moves separately for attorney fees.

For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is denied, except on punitive damages, which will be reduced; Plaintiff's motion is granted, but with a reduction in the amount of recoverable attorney fees.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Elijah Turley was a steel worker. He started in 1995, when he was hired by the Buffalo-area plant, Bethlehem Steel. He was employed there when ISG Lackawanna Inc. purchased the plant from Bethlehem Steel in 2003, and remained employed through AM USA's purchase in 2005. He was finally laid off when the plant closed in April of 2009.

Elijah Turley is also black. He was, in fact, the only African-American in Lackawanna's Pickler Department-the processing area of the plant where Turley worked. (3 Tr. 21.) And the testimony at trial unequivocally demonstrated that, beginning in 2003, he was subjected to loathsome racial harassment at work. An illustration of that follows.

Defendant Thomas Jaworski, one of Turley's supervisors, repeatedly called him "boy." (3 Tr. 4, 6.) Co-workers refused to eat lunch him; they called him a monkey, a boon, an ape, a gorilla; they called him a nigger, or worse yet, "that fucking nigger." (See, e.g., 2 Tr. 66, 2 Tr. 186, 3 Tr. 73.)

Regrettably, the disparaging treatment was not limited to offensive name calling. His workstation, for instance, was also targeted. A "dancing gorilla" sign was hung there; the letters "KK," an apparent reference to King Kong, were spray-painted on the nearest door to his workstation; the phrase "King Kong lives" was spray-painted not just on a nearby coil but also on a nearby floor plate.

Co-worker Frank Pelc's conduct was particularly egregious. He admitted that he spray-painted graffiti with messages directed at Turley. And at one point he confronted Turley, screaming at him, "You fucking black bitch, you fucking black piece of shit." (3 Tr. 26.) He made monkey sounds and threatened Turley's life: "When I see your black nigger ass on the outside, I'm going to fucking shoot you." (3 Tr. 28.) After this incident Turley was visibly traumatized, and was taken to the hospital.

Other co-workers also confronted Turley. At one point, Kevin Daley shouted at Turley, "Shut up you fucking black crybaby bitch. Fuck You. You ain't shit. You're always crying like a bitch." (3 Tr. 30, 32.) Defendants Larry Sampsell and Gerald Marchand "just stood there." (3 Tr. 32.) Another co-worker once tried to bait Turley into hitting him and shouted, "Black bitch. Fuck you black piece of shit. Get your black ass out of here. We don't want you here anyway." (3 Tr. 82.)

The harassment continued. In March of 2006, the phrase "No Lazy People," intended as a reference to a contemptible racial stereotype perpetuated by Pelc and others at the plant, was written on a wall in the Pickler Department. Testimony revealed that thick, black grease was applied "at least five days per week" to the chair, door handles, and controls used by Turley. (2 Tr. 161) Pelc's response: "it must have been the boon that's doing it." (2 Tr. 165--66.) Later, Pelc destroyed a chair that Turley used, declaring, "That nigger ain't sitting in this chair." (3 Tr. 107.)

The harassment not only continued, it amplified. Incredibly, in June of 2006, the letters "KKK" were spelled out on the wall across from Turley's workstation. Shaken, Turley was again taken to the hospital. As if that were not enough, in February of 2007, the threatening reference to the hate group was written on the wall again.

The list goes on. A sad face was drawn on the wall, presumably mocking Turley because he often became upset at work. An ape man was drawn on the wall. Turley was denied bathroom breaks; his time sheets were tampered with; Defendant Sampsell installed a camera trained on his workstation and someone drew an eyeball on the wall; his car was often vandalized; on December 3, 2007, in fact, Turley returned to his car to find a black toy monkey dangling in front of him-it was hung by a noose.

During the trial, Plaintiff played a recording of shrill monkey sounds that were regularly broadcast over the public address system at the Pickler. That system was also used to threaten Turley. Unidentified employees broadcast to the plant: "We are going to fucking kill you, fucking nigger" and "we're going to kill your fucking Jewish lawyer too." (3 Tr. 81.)

When Turley began work at the steel plant, he enjoyed his job and was a man full of confidence; he possessed a colorful and animated personality. He came in, as one witness put it, displaying his feathers like a "rooster." (2 Tr. 138.) But the unyielding harassment took its toll. And by the time he left, he was broken and dispirited. The company had, again in the words of this witness, "cut the head off the rooster." (2 Tr. 139.)

The individual defendants in this case are largely not, however, the people who perpetrated these repugnant acts. They are, instead, the supervisors at the plant. Defendant Larry Sampsell was the Manager of Labor Relations and Security at the Lackawanna Plant during the relevant time period. Defendant Gerald Marchand was the Manager of Human Resources from May 2003 until March 2007, after which he continued as a human resources consultant for several months. Defendant Thomas Jaworski was the Area Manager of the Pickler and Tandem Mill Departments from May 2003 to January 2007. Sampsell and Jaworski both worked at the plant in a management capacity since 1962. Marchand had been an employee there since 1963.

Testimony at trial revealed that these defendants, and others in supervisory roles, took some measures meant to counteract the racial harassment. Plant officials took down the "dancing gorilla" sign, and painted over some of the graffiti. They hired a private investigator. They conducted interviews with employees and retained an outside attorney to investigate the monkey in Turley's car. Although that investigation proved fruitless, Sampsell ordered the installation of lights in the parking lot. Eventually, Turley was assigned an escort to protect him.

Defendants also took remedial measures against known offenders. They suspended Pelc for three days without pay after he threatened Turley, and they suspended him for two days after he admitted that he was responsible for the "King Kong" graffiti. Defendants also suspended another employee for five days after learning of a racially discriminatory comment.

Most of the incidents, however, went unpunished. Defendants concede this. But they argue that the "code of silence," which they say permeated the plant, stymied their best efforts. Employees would warn one another when a manager entered the plant. And, five witnesses eventually admitted that they had withheld information during the company's investigation.

In the end, the jury was asked several questions regarding the respective liability of the individual defendants, the corporate defendants, and the relationship between Lackawanna and its parent company. It found in Turley's favor on almost every question: Turley had been subjected to a hostile work environment, which was created or permitted to exist by Defendants; Defendants failed to take adequate corrective action, were grossly negligent, or created a policy under which these practices occurred; none of the Defendants exercised reasonable care to promptly prevent and correct racially harassing behavior; the corporate defendants, and individual-defendant Sampsell, acted in furtherance of their business interests and, through extreme and outrageous conduct, intended to cause Turley severe emotional distress; Turley, in fact, suffered from severe distress; and finally, AM USA was sufficiently integrated with its subsidiary, Lackawanna, to constitute a single employer.

The jury awarded Turley over $25 million in total damages.

B. Procedural History

After filing charges of discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Turley filed a complaint in this Court on December 6, 2006. (Docket No. 1.) After discovery, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on September 20, 2008. (Docket No. 27.) On March 23, 2011, this Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on claims regarding retaliation, overtime, training, leave time, and monitoring. It denied the motion as to Turley's hostile work environment, equal pay, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.

This Court then resolved motions in limine (Docket No. 147), lingering discovery issues (Docket No. 141), and trial subpoena matters (Docket No. 149). It subsequently selected eight jurors and began trial on May 15, 2012. (Docket Nos. 159, 162.) At the close of Plaintiff's case, Defendants moved for dismissal under Rule 50(a). This Court denied the motion with the exception of Turley's equal pay claim, which it dismissed. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in Turley's favor on the remaining claims: those for a hostile work environment and for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Docket No. 191.) The second phase of the trial then began, and, on June 14, 2012, it concluded with the jury's award of damages. (Docket No. 197.)

Thereafter, the parties each filed post-trial motions. Turley now seeks attorney fees (Docket No. 203) and Defendants seek judgment as a matter of law or a new trial (Docket No. 214.) Briefing on these motions concluded on November 5, 2012, at which time this Court took them under consideration.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Rule 50(b) & 59 Standards

Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a court to render judgment as a matter of law and vacate a jury's verdict if it finds that "a reasonable jury [did] not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis" to reach its conclusion. The standard is well settled:

Judgment as a matter of law may not properly be granted under Rule 50 unless the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, is insufficient to permit a reasonable juror to find in h[is] favor. In deciding such a motion, the court must give deference to all credibility determinations and reasonable inferences of the jury, and it may not itself weigh the credibility of witnesses or consider the weight of the evidence.

Galdieri--Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir.1998) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, the standard for post-verdict judgment as a matter of law is the same as that for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Nadel v. Isaksson, 321 F.3d 266, 272 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir.1998)). Thus, a district court must deny a motion for judgment as a matter of law unless "there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable [jurors] could have reached.'" Id. (quoting Cruz v. Local Union No. Three of the Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 34 F.3d 1148, 1154-55 (2d Cir.1994)).

The moving party must, however, fulfill the procedural prerequisite of moving for judgment as a matter of law before the case was submitted to the jury. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(2); Mealey v. Apartment Rentals, 125 F.3d 844 (2d Cir. 1997). And a party may only make a post-judgment Rule 50(b) motion based on grounds specifically raised at the close of evidence. Lambert v. Genesee Hosp., 10 F.3d 46, 53--54 (2d Cir.1993). If the movant does not meet the Rule 50 specificity requirement, the Court may not grant judgment as a matter of law unless the result is "required to prevent manifest injustice." Kuper v. Empire Blue Cross & Blue Shield, No. 99 Civ. 1190, 2003 WL 359462, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2003) (citing Russo v. State of New York, 672 F.2d 1014, 1022 (2d Cir. 1982)).

The standard under Rule 59, which permits the court to "grant a new trial on all or some of the issues," see Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1), is less stringent. See Manley v. AmBase Corp., 337 F.3d 237, 244 (2d Cir. 2003). "In contrast to a judgment as a matter of law, a new trial may be granted under Rule 59 even if there is substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict." Mono v. Peter Pan Bus Lines, Inc., 13 F. Supp. 2d 471, 475 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (citing Song v. Ives Laboratories, Inc., 957 F.2d 1041, 1047 (2d Cir. 1992)). And the court need not weigh the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Song, 957 F.2d at 1047. Nevertheless, "[a] motion for a new trial ordinarily should not be granted unless the trial court is convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice." Townsend v. Benjamin Enters., Inc., 679 F.3d 41, 51 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

B. Defendants' Motion

Defendants seek judgment as a matter of law or a new trial on each of the jury's several findings. They argue that:

(1) Turley did not prove that AM USA and Lackawanna constituted a single employer;

(2) The evidence did not show that either the individual or the corporate defendants were liable under ...


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