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MARTINI v. FANNIE MAE

September 10, 1997

ELIZABETH A. MARTINI, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KESSLER

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial or Remittitur [# 113] and Defendants' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment and Apply the Damages Cap Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act [# 115]. Between November 18 and December 9, 1996, Plaintiff's gender-based discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 1-2501 et seq., were tried before a jury in this Court. On December 12, 1996, the jury rendered a verdict for Plaintiff on her claims. Defendants now raise several objections to that verdict. Upon consideration of the Defendants' Motions, Plaintiff's Oppositions thereto, Defendants' Replies, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that Defendants' Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial or Remittitur [# 113] must be denied in part and granted in part and Defendants' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment and Apply the Damages Cap Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act [# 115] must be denied in part and granted in part.

 I. Background

 Plaintiff Elizabeth A. Martini was employed by Defendant Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae") from July 1988 until March 8, 1995, when she received a termination notice. From January 1993 until April 1994, she was a Director of Long Term Funding and from April 1994 until her termination she served as a Director, Debt Sales.

 Defendant Linda Knight, a Fannie Mae Senior Vice President in the Office of the Treasurer, supervised Plaintiff and Defendant Forrest Kobayashi, who was, initially, a co-worker of Plaintiff's in another department within the Office of the Treasurer. However, during the time that Plaintiff worked at Fannie Mae, Defendant Kobayashi was promoted to the position of Vice President - Liability Management, and assumed supervisory responsibilities over Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Kobayashi repeatedly harassed and demeaned her because she was a woman, creating a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act. She also alleged that Defendant Knight, although told of Defendant Kobayashi's behavior, ignored Plaintiff's complaints. Finally, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants retaliated against her for complaining about Defendant Kobayashi's behavior by eliminating her position in an office reorganization which was planned and implemented by Defendants Knight and Kobayashi.

 Plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC determined that it would be unable to complete the investigation of Plaintiff's complaints within the 180 days mandated by statute. On or about May 1, 1995, the EEOC issued a right to sue letter to Plaintiff. Compl. PP 11-13.

 Between November 18 and December 9, 1996, Plaintiff's remaining claims were tried before a jury. Defendants renewed their Motion to Dismiss the D.C. Human Rights Act claims with respect to the individual Defendants on November 19, 1996, which motion was denied by the Court on December 2, 1996. At the close of Plaintiff's case and again at the close of all the evidence, Defendants moved, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, for judgment as a matter law. The Court denied Defendants' motions. On December 12, 1996, the jury rendered a total verdict of $ 6,948,307.40 in favor of Plaintiff. *fn1"

 With respect to Plaintiff's gender-based harassment claims against Fannie Mae under Title VII, the jury awarded Plaintiff $ 153,500 in back pay and benefits; $ 1,893,807.40 in future pay and benefits; $ 0 in emotional pain and suffering; and $ 1,000,000 in punitive damages. With respect to her retaliation claims against Fannie Mae under Title VII, the jury awarded Plaintiff $ 0 in compensatory damages, but awarded $ 2,000,000 in punitive damages. *fn2"

 With respect to her claims against Fannie Mae under the D.C. Human Rights Act, the jury awarded Plaintiff $ 0 in compensatory damages and $ 250,000 in punitive damages on her harassment claims and $ 500,000 for emotional pain and suffering and $ 1,000,000 in punitive damages on her retaliation claims. With respect to her claims against Defendant Kobayashi, the jury awarded Plaintiff $ 100,000 *fn3" in damages for emotional pain and suffering and $ 20,000 in punitive damages on her harassment claims and $ 10,000 in damages for emotional pain and suffering and $ 10,000 in punitive damages on her retaliation claims. With respect to her claims against Defendant Knight, the jury awarded Plaintiff $ 0 in compensatory damages and $ 1,000 in punitive damages on her harassment claims and $ 5,000 in damages for emotional pain and suffering and $ 5,000 in punitive damages on her retaliation claims. *fn4"

 Judgment on the verdict was entered on December 16, 1996. Defendants now raise several challenges to that jury verdict. Although the Court has carefully considered all of Defendant's contentions, this Opinion will address only those arguments that raise substantial issues for consideration. Defendants have already argued almost all of these issues at least once to either the jury or the Court and there is no reason to revisit them where an ample record from pretrial and trial proceedings already exists.

 II. Application of the Title VII Damage Cap

 Congress has provided that a plaintiff's Title VII damage recovery is limited. The relevant provision provides:

 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D). Defendants ask that this damage cap be applied to the verdict rendered in favor of Plaintiff. The statute clearly requires that the Court reduce Plaintiff's Title VII recovery for compensatory and punitive damages for both her discrimination and retaliation claims from $ 4,893,807.40 to $ 300,000. *fn5"

 Plaintiff makes a half-hearted argument that this damage cap may deny her equal protection of the laws under the Fifth Amendment's due process clause because the limitations it places on recovery for employment discrimination apply only to non-race-based claims. The Court is reluctant to address such an argument absent full briefing, but notes that before Congress added the damages provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub. L. No. 102-166, a Title VII plaintiff could recover back pay only. A Title VII plaintiff was unable to recover any compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering or punitive damages, both of which were available to section 1981 plaintiffs for race-based claims. See H.R. Rep. No. 104-40(I) (1991), reprinted in 1991 U.S.C.C.A.N. 549. Now, Title VII permits a Plaintiff to recover up to $ 300,000. Thus, if any race-based differential in damages existed prior to the 1991 amendments, that differential has been virtually eliminated by those amendments which now allow recovery for both compensatory and punitive damages (subject to the $ 300,000 cap).

 Defendants contend that the $ 300,000 cap should also be applied to limit Plaintiff's recovery under the D.C. Human Rights Act. They argue that, in enacting the cap, Congress intended that a prevailing Title VII plaintiff should be limited to a total of $ 300,000. Further, they claim that allowing a plaintiff to assert claims under a state law, and thus avoid Title VII's damage cap, would undermine Congress' carefully crafted statutory and regulatory scheme.

 The Court does not agree. Title VII has within it an explicit savings clause that provides:

 
Nothing in this title shall be deemed to exempt or relieve any person from any liability, duty, penalty, or punishment provided by any present or future law of any State *fn6" . . .

 42 U.S.C § 2000e-7. This provision alone allows Plaintiff to recover under both Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Congress could have limited recovery under state human rights statutes if it wanted to, but chose instead to enact a savings clause to preserve existing state remedies. See Luciano v. Olsten Corp., 912 F. Supp. 663, 675 (E.D.N.Y. 1996) (refusing to allocate jury award only to Title VII claims where the jury verdict did not identify the particular law under which damages were awarded), aff'd, 110 F.3d 210 (2d Cir. 1997); Selgas v. American Airlines, Inc., 858 F. Supp. 316 (D. Puerto Rico 1994), aff'd in relevant part and rev'd in part, 69 F.3d 1205 (1st Cir. 1995). Further, although Congress decided to limit a plaintiff's recovery under Title VII, that limitation relates only to violations of federal, not state laws. *fn7" There is nothing inconsistent about allowing a state to provide its citizens more protection against discrimination than that provided by federal laws. *fn8" See Luciano, 912 F. Supp. at 675-76.

 Defendants also argue that recovery under the D.C. Human Rights Act should be limited to that available under Title VII because, generally, the District of Columbia courts look to Title VII for guidance in interpreting the D.C. Human Rights Act. See Arthur Young & Co. v. Sutherland, 631 A.2d 354, 361 n.17 (D.C. 1993). However, the courts have looked to Title VII case law for purposes of interpreting the substantive liability provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act, not for purposes of crafting or limiting the remedies available to a plaintiff. The District of Columbia City Council did not choose to impose a cap on recoveries under the D.C. Human Rights Act and this Court will not infer one. *fn9"

 Finally, Plaintiff "suggests" that the Court may reallocate the damages awarded under Title VII to Plaintiff's recovery under the D.C. Human Rights Act to fully effectuate the jury's intent. However, Plaintiff provides no legal support for such a reallocation. The jury made separate, specific awards under separate statutes, pursuant to specific instructions of law, and the Court will not disturb its findings to "reallocate" Plaintiff's damage awards.

 For these reasons, Plaintiff's Title VII recovery for compensatory and punitive damages ...


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