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Carrion v. Agfa Construction, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 13, 2013

José E. Carrion, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Agfa Construction, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.[†]

Argued: May 7, 2013

In this appeal, plaintiff-appellant José E. Carrion questions the continued vitality of our holding in Grochowski v. Phoenix Construction, 318 F.3d 80 (2d Cir. 2003), where we concluded that the Davis-Bacon Act ("Davis-Bacon" or "the Act"), 40 U.S.C. §§ 3141-3148, bars third-party private contract actions, brought under state law, aimed at enforcing the Act's prevailing wage schedules, because such "claims are clearly an impermissible 'end run' around the [Act]." Grochowski, 318 F.3d at 86. Carrion brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brian M. Cogan, Judge) against his sometime employer, defendant-appellee Agfa Construction, Inc. ("Agfa"), claiming that Agfa (1) discriminated against him in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981") and various state laws by giving more work opportunities and more pay to "Asian Indian" employees; and (2) did not pay him the prevailing wage as required by the Davis-Bacon Act. After trial, a jury delivered a verdict partially in favor of Carrion, awarding $1 in nominal damages and $5, 000 in punitive damages to him for his discrimination claims.

Carrion now appeals from the amended judgment of the District Court, claiming that the District Court erred in certain pre- and post-trial orders. Specifically, Carrion contends that the District Court erred in (1) dismissing his prevailing wage (Davis-Bacon) claim; (2) denying him relief for the § 1981 discrimination claim in the form of punitive damages; and (3) denying his motion for a new trial with respect to damages on his discrimination claim. Grochowski remains the controlling law of this Circuit, and we therefore hold that the District Court did not err in dismissing Carrion's prevailing wage claim. We also conclude that the District Court did not err in denying Carrion punitive damages or in denying his motion for a new trial with respect to damages.

Michael G. O'Neill, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Joseph M. Labuda, Milman Labuda Law Group PLLC, Lake Success, NY, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: Cabranes, Wesley, and Wallace, [‡] Circuit Judges.

José A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, plaintiff-appellant José E. Carrion questions the continued vitality of our holding in Grochowski v. Phoenix Construction, 318 F.3d 80 (2d Cir. 2003), where we concluded that the Davis-Bacon Act ("Davis-Bacon" or "the Act"), 40 U.S.C. §§ 3141-3148, [1] bars third-party private contract actions, brought under state law, aimed at enforcing the Act's prevailing wage schedules, because such "claims are clearly an impermissible 'end run' around the [Act]." Grochowski, 318 F.3d at 86. Carrion brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brian M. Cogan, Judge) against his sometime employer, defendant-appellee Agfa Construction, Inc. ("Agfa"), claiming that Agfa (1) discriminated against him in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981") and various state laws by giving more work opportunities and more pay to "Asian Indian" employees; and (2) did not pay him the prevailing wage as required by the Davis-Bacon Act.[2] After trial, a jury delivered a verdict partially in favor of Carrion, awarding $1 in nominal damages and $5, 000 in punitive damages to him for his discrimination claims.

Carrion now appeals from the amended judgment of the District Court, claiming that the District Court erred in certain pre- and post-trial orders. Specifically, Carrion contends that the District Court erred in (1) dismissing his prevailing wage (Davis-Bacon) claim; (2) denying him punitive damages for his § 1981 discrimination claim; and (3) denying his motion for a new trial with respect to damages on his discrimination claim. Grochowski remains the controlling law of this Circuit, and we therefore hold that the District Court did not err in dismissing Carrion's prevailing wage claim. We also conclude that the District Court did not err in denying Carrion punitive damages or in denying his motion for a new trial with respect to damages.

BACKGROUND

Carrion, who is of Puerto Rican descent, worked on and off as a laborer for Agfa beginning in February of 2009. Like many other construction companies, Agfa hires employees when work requires, and lays them off when they are no longer needed. Accordingly, Carrion was hired and laid off three times in 2009. Carrion subsequently brought suit against Agfa, claiming, inter alia, that, although he was rehired several times, Agfa discriminated against him in violation of § 1981 and various state laws by treating Asian Indians preferentially, and that Agfa denied him the "prevailing wage, " to which he was assertedly entitled under Davis-Bacon.

As to his "prevailing wage" claim, Carrion argued that, as a third-party beneficiary to a construction contract between Agfa and the New York City Housing Authority, he was entitled to the "prevailing wage, " as established by the Davis-Bacon Act.[3] The Davis-Bacon Act requires that construction contracts in excess of $2, 000 to which the federal government is a party contain a provision stating the minimum wage that mechanics or laborers on the project will be paid.[4] 40 U.S.C. § 3142(a). That minimum wage must be based on so-called prevailing wage schedules, determined by the Secretary of Labor to correspond to wages paid for similar projects in the same state. 40 U.S.C § 3142(b); see also Cal. Div. of Labor Standards Enforcement v. Dillingham Constr., N.A., 519 U.S. 316, 319 (1997) ("Since 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act . . . has required that the wages paid on federal public works projects equal wages paid in the project's locale on similar, private construction jobs.").

The District Court granted Agfa's motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, [5] as to Carrion's prevailing wage claim, on the basis that the claim was foreclosed by our holding in Grochowski, 318 F.3d at 86. In Grochowski, we addressed state-law contract claims brought by roofers and bricklayers on federally funded construction projects who argued that, as third-party beneficiaries to the contracts between their employers and the New York City Housing Authority, they had a right to prevailing wages. Id. at 83-84. We held that the Davis-Bacon Act does not "confer[ ] a private right of action on an aggrieved employee for back wages, " id. at 85, and that state-law actions seeking to achieve the same goal were not permissible, id. at 86. Carrion's other claims proceeded to trial.

After a four-day trial, the jury found that Agfa had (1) discriminated against Carrion in its assignment of work and (2) failed to pay Carrion wages for all hours he had worked. However, the jury found that Carrion had failed to prove entitlement to compensatory damages for his discrimination ...


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