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Lashley v. New Life Business Institute, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 9, 2015

COREY LASHLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW LIFE BUSINESS INSTITUTE, INC., and SHEILA FLYNN a/k/a Sheila Allen, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

BRIAN M. COGAN, District Judge.

In this Title VII action, a jury returned a verdict of $10, 000 compensatory and $30, 000 punitive damages against defendants Sheila Flynn and New Life Business Institute, Inc. ("NLBI"). Defendants have moved for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. The motion is granted only to the extent of setting aside the jury's verdict as to plaintiff's retaliation claim. For the reasons stated below, a new trial on damages is unnecessary, and the jury's damages award is upheld.

BACKGROUND

I. Overview

Defendant Flynn is the president of NLBI, a health care training facility which trains the underprivileged in medical billing and becoming medical assistants. She started NLBI in 2001 and has been operating the facility since. On April 7, 2012, she met plaintiff Corey Lashley at a club in Queens. This encounter led to both a romantic relationship, which lasted for several months, and plaintiff's employment at NLBI as an admissions recruiter. While plaintiff was still employed at NLBI, he attempted to break up with defendant Flynn. In response, Flynn became angry, sending plaintiff a flurry of text messages, including one that told plaintiff he should quit. She continued to pursue him romantically, though, and she engaged in sexual acts with plaintiff in her office. Eventually, plaintiff was terminated. Plaintiff later filed a complaint against defendants alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII. After a four-day trial, the jury found in favor of plaintiff as noted above.

II. The Trial

The bulk of the testimony at trial was from plaintiff himself. Plaintiff testified that on April 7, 2012, defendant Flynn approached him at a club in Queens called "Club Area." The two began talking, and eventually defendant Flynn told plaintiff that "she [could] change [his] life." She offered plaintiff a job advertising for NLBI and invited him back to her house to "speak about the possible employment." At Flynn's house, Flynn took plaintiff to her bedroom, gave him an alcoholic drink, and they began to discuss plaintiff's past job experience and whether he would be able to attract new students to the school. At some point that night, Flynn approached plaintiff and kissed him. Plaintiff was "a little reluctant" but returned Flynn's affections because he was thinking about the job she was offering him. They had sex that night. Afterwards, defendant Flynn told Lashley to come to NLBI to interview on Monday, but that the interview would be just a "formality" because he already had the job.

Plaintiff went to NLBI the following Monday and began work as an employee. Later that night, plaintiff called persons he had previously had worked with, including Rene Towles and his cousin Tyrone Lashley, to be part of his "street team" that would help advertise NLBI to prospective students.

From the beginning of plaintiff's employment, defendant Flynn would tell plaintiff to come to her house at night. Plaintiff testified that he had intended to discuss work at Flynn's house, "but ultimately [they] had sex." He said he "did what [he] had to do to get where [he] had to go" and that he was "doing what [he] had to do to be able to provide for [his] child. [He] didn't like it. But [he] accepted it for what it was."

Around April 23rd, the mother of plaintiff's child returned to town, which, according to plaintiff, made Flynn angry because plaintiff spent more time with his child and his child's mother, rather than with her. Flynn would "slam doors, kick garbage cans over." At one point, plaintiff took Flynn to her office and tried to calm her down. Flynn then told plaintiff that he was her "problem." She started to grab plaintiff and ultimately gave him oral sex inside her office.

A couple weeks later, plaintiff started "feeling bad" about his affair with defendant Flynn, so he began avoiding her. He told Flynn that he was "done with this" and that he "d[idn't] want to do it anymore." In response, Flynn told plaintiff that she could "provide" for him, including paying his child support and purchasing for him "an all new white Range Rover." She continued to get angry about plaintiff seeing his child and his child's mother.

At some point around the end of May, plaintiff and Flynn were in her office, when Flynn started "grabbing" plaintiff and "rubbing on [his] body." Ultimately, she unzippered his pants and gave him oral sex. Plaintiff testified that he "just felt like crap" afterwards.

At work in May, defendant Flynn asked plaintiff to fill out an application for a license, which plaintiff filled out. Flynn told plaintiff not to "worry about it" and "it is nothing to stress."

Eventually, Flynn began to direct plaintiff to fire members of his street team, including Towles and another employee named Kareem Smith. According to plaintiff, Flynn "ma[d]e up reasons that didn't exist" in order to fire members of plaintiff's street team, despite the fact that his street team had helped attract a number of new students to the school. When plaintiff asked Flynn why she was instructing him to fire members of his street team, she responded, "because I'm the boss, I control the situation." Plaintiff believed that the true reason Flynn was acting this way was because she was angry that he "didn't want to leave [his] baby mother and [his] child."

Defendant Flynn also forced plaintiff to take an unpaid, two-week vacation, stating that she needed two weeks to "get over" plaintiff and did not want to see him during that period. She sent plaintiff a text message saying, "[A]nything worth having is a struggle. Always remember that. It is easy to quit." However, defendant Flynn later sent plaintiff a text message saying that there was no need for him to take a vacation. Plaintiff testified that these text exchanges made him feel "bad, " "like she was pressuring me, stalking me."

At one point, plaintiff resigned but then came back to work the next day because he "needed the money." Soon thereafter, defendant Flynn sent plaintiff a message stating, "you should quit, it is not going to be nice." Plaintiff interpreted this as an indication that he should quit.

On July 2nd, plaintiff was terminated from NLBI. He was told that he was fired because of "a problem with one of [his] guys, [his] worker's pay, and [plaintiff] went in defense of him because he didn't get all of his money, " and therefore plaintiff was "not on [defendant Flynn's] side." However, plaintiff testified that defendant Flynn told him the true reason he was fired was because he did not want to sleep with her anymore.

At trial, plaintiff also called Towles, Tyrone Lashley, and Shanee Brown, all former employees at NLBI, to testify on his behalf. They all testified that they were terminated from NLBI. Tyrone Lashley and Brown both testified that they were not aware ...


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