United States District Court, District of Columbia
July 13, 1999
DOROTHY CHADWICK, PLAINTIFF,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, District Judge.
The Court has before it defendant's motion for judgment as a
matter of law, or in the alternative, for a new trial or
remittitur, and plaintiff's motion to award back pay and
After a three-day trial beginning on February 8, 1999, a twelve
person jury unanimously found that plaintiff experienced quid pro
quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment sexual
harassment by virtue of the conduct of her supervisor at the Oak
Hill Youth Center. The jury rejected defendant's affirmative
defenses and awarded plaintiff $400,000 in compensatory damages.
Defendant now asks this Court to enter a judgment for it as a
matter of law, grant a new trial or reduce the jury verdict as
excessive. Plaintiff requests that the Court uphold the jury's
verdict despite the fact that it exceeds the statutory cap on
compensatory damages and award her back pay plus prejudgment
interest. The Court will address each of the parties' motions in
I. DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR FOR A
NEW TRIAL OR REMITTITUR
Entry of a judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is warranted only if "no
reasonable juror could reach the verdict rendered in th[e] case."
United States ex
rel. Yesudian v. Howard Univ., 153 F.3d 731
, 735 (D.C.Cir.
1998) (quoting Anderson v. Group Hospitalization, Inc.,
820 F.2d 465, 473 (D.C.Cir. 1987)). "In making that determination, a
court may not assess the credibility of witnesses or weigh the
evidence." Hayman v. National Academy of Sciences, 23 F.3d 535,
537 (D.C.Cir. 1994). "Because a judgment as a matter of law
intrudes upon the rightful province of the jury, it is highly
disfavored." Boodoo v. Cary, 21 F.3d 1157, 1161 (D.C.Cir.
Plaintiff's testimony at trial established the elements of both
quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment
sexual harassment. She also testified about her attempts to
complain about her supervisor's harassing behavior, which were
ignored, and about the emotional turmoil that resulted from the
sexual harassment. The jury heard and evaluated this testimony,
as well as the sometimes contradictory testimony of the defense
witnesses. The jury concluded by a preponderance of the evidence
that plaintiff had been sexually harassed and had taken
reasonable steps to use the preventative or corrective programs
offered by defendant.
Defendant now asks the Court to set aside the jury's verdict on
the basis of many of the same arguments it unsuccessfully
presented to the jury. It was the jury's role, however, to weigh
the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses and determine
defendant's liability. On the basis of the testimony it heard,
the jury apparently believed plaintiff and did not credit the
testimony of the defense witnesses. Having heard the same
testimony, the Court cannot conclude that it was unreasonable for
the jury to render a verdict for plaintiff. The Court therefore
will deny defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law
under Rule 50.
Defendant also argues that the Court should grant a new trial
under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Although
the standard for a new trial is "less onerous" than the one
applied under Rule 50, a new trial should be granted "only where
the court is convinced the jury verdict was a `seriously
erroneous result' and where denial of the motion will result in a
`clear miscarriage of justice.'" Nyman v. FDIC, 967 F. Supp. 1562,
1569 (D.D.C. 1997) (quoting Sedgwick v. Giant Food, Inc.,
110 F.R.D. 175, 176 (D.D.C. 1986)). The Court has no reason to
question the judgment and credibility determinations of the jury,
nor does it believe that "a clear miscarriage of justice" would
occur if this verdict were allowed to stand. The Court therefore
also will deny defendant's motion for a new trial.
Finally, defendant requests that the Court reduce the jury's
award of $400,000 in damages as excessive. "In assessing whether
an award is excessive, the Court should determine if the size of
the verdict is beyond reason, if it `shocks the conscience' of
the court, or if it represents a `miscarriage of justice.'"
Curry v. District of Columbia, 9 F. Supp.2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1998)
(quoting Machesney v. Bruni, 905 F. Supp. 1122, 1131 (D.D.C.
1995)). "[B]ecause the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial
pervades the realm of jury verdict decisions," a court may remit
a jury verdict "only if the reduction `permit[s] recovery of the
highest amount the jury tolerably could have awarded.'"
Langevine v. District of Columbia, 106 F.3d 1018, 1024
(D.C.Cir. 1997) (quoting Carter v. District of Columbia,
795 F.2d 116, 135 n. 13 (D.C.Cir. 1986)). Plaintiff presented
evidence of the emotional distress she suffered as a result of
the sexual harassment she experienced, her lack of income after
her constructive discharge and the consequent loss of her house
as a result of her inability to make mortgage payments. The
jury's verdict of $400,000 was not excessive in the
circumstances. While the Court will reduce the jury's award to
$300,000 pursuant to Title VII's statutory cap, see
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D), discussed infra at 6, it will not reduce the
award any further.
II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR AWARD OF BACK PAY AND PREJUDGMENT
Under Title VII, an award of compensatory damages against a
defendant with more than 500 employees cannot exceed $300,000.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(B). Despite this provision,
plaintiff argues that the Court should not disturb the jury's
award of $400,000 because the additional $100,000 represents
front pay that is not subject to the statutory cap.
Our court of appeals recently held that front pay was an
equitable remedy to be considered by the Court and that it
therefore should be excluded from the consideration of
compensatory damages subject to the $300,000 damages cap. See
Martini v. Federal Nat'l Mortgage Ass'n, 178 F.3d 1336, at 1348
(D.C.Cir. 1999). At the time the Court instructed the jury in
this matter, however, it was unclear whether front pay was a
legal remedy subject to the cap or an equitable remedy to be
awarded in addition to the cap. With the concurrence of the
parties, the Court therefore instructed the jury that front pay
was a legal remedy encompassed by the category of "future
pecuniary losses" — a category of damages that is explicitly
subject to the cap. 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3). It is too late for
plaintiff to take a contrary position now.
In the pretrial proceedings, plaintiff explicitly maintained
that front pay was a legal remedy. First, in the "Itemization of
Damages" section of the Joint Pretrial Statement filed by the
parties on January 25, 1999, plaintiff included "[l]ost pay and
front pay" in her proposal of damages to be considered by the
jury. See Joint Pretrial Statement at 11. The Court adopted
this position in its Final Pretrial Order of February 2, 1999.
Under our Rules, "no departure from the final Pretrial Order
shall be permitted except to prevent manifest injustice." Local
Second, when counsel for each party submitted a proposed "Form
of Verdict" to be presented to the jury, plaintiff included as
Number 3 the following language:
3. Under the law as given to you in these
instructions, state the amount of lost pay, front
pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress,
mental anguish, inconvenience, pain and suffering,
and lost enjoyment of life plaintiff should be
awarded from defendant.
AMOUNT FOR COMPENSATORY
AMOUNT FOR LOST PAY: $____
AMOUNT FOR FRONT PAY: $____
Plaintiff's Proposed Form of Verdict ¶ 3.
Third, while the Court did not use plaintiff's precise language
in its verdict form, it did instruct the jury, in part, as
The damages that you award must be fair compensation,
no more and no less. In calculating damages, you
should not consider any back pay (including past
overtime wages) that the plaintiff lost. The award of
back pay, should you find the District of Columbia
liable, will be calculated and determined by the
Court, that is by me, the Judge, after your verdict.
However, you may award compensatory damages for
future pecuniary losses, including projected future
lost wages, as well as emotional pain, suffering,
inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental
anguish that plaintiff has suffered or is likely to
suffer if you find these were caused by defendant's
allegedly unlawful acts.
An award of future damages necessarily requires that
monetary payment be made now for a loss that
plaintiff will not actually suffer until some future
dates. If you should find that the plaintiff is
entitled to future damages, then you must determine
the present value or worth, in dollars, of such
Plaintiff did not object to these instructions, which quite
clearly included the direction that the jury should consider
front pay or "projected lost wages" and that
only the issue of back pay was reserved for the Court. Because
plaintiff did not object to this instruction, and in fact
concurred in it, she is precluded from objecting to it now and
therefore may not seek an award above the $300,000 statutory cap.
See Rule 51, Fed.R.Civ.P. ("No party may assign as error the
giving or the failure to give an instruction unless that party
objects thereto before the jury retires to consider its verdict .
. ."). Our court of appeal's recent decision in Martini
notwithstanding, plaintiff is estopped from asking the Court to
decide the front pay issue and is statutorily barred from
recovering a jury award above $300,000. The jury's award
therefore will be reduced to $300,000.*fn1
Plaintiff also requests the Court in equity to award her back
pay for the period between the date she left her job at the Oak
Hill Youth Center and the date of the jury's verdict. Title VII
entitles individuals to be "[made] whole for injuries suffered on
account of unlawful employment discrimination." Albemarle Paper
Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 418, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 45 L.Ed.2d 280
(1975); see Hayes v. Shalala, 933 F. Supp. 21, 24 (D.D.C. 1996).
The granting of back pay is specifically enumerated as an
available means of achieving this goal. See
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1). In granting back pay, "a court must, `as nearly as
possible, recreate the conditions and relationships that would
have been, had there been no unlawful discrimination.'" Berger
v. Iron Workers Reinforced Rodmen, 170 F.3d 1111, 1119 (D.C.Cir.
Plaintiff was constructively discharged on October 11, 1996.
She testified that she planned to work for defendant until her
retirement. She also testified that she had diligently tried to
find work since the date of her constructive discharge and had
earned only $3000 at temporary jobs during the period between her
discharge and the verdict. Defendant does not suggest that
plaintiff's efforts to mitigate her damages were not genuine. The
Court therefore finds that but for her supervisor's
discriminatory behavior, plaintiff likely would have been
employed by defendant at least until the date of the verdict.
The period between plaintiff's constructive discharge and the
verdict was two years and 92 days. Her salary at the time of
discharge was $29,742 per year. Thus, plaintiff would have earned
$66,980.61 over that period. After subtracting the $3000
plaintiff earned in the interim as mitigated damages, the Court
concludes that plaintiff should be awarded $63,980.61 in back
pay, plus prejudgment interest.*fn2
An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and a Final
Judgment are entered this same day.
This cause having been tried by the Court and a Jury, before
the Honorable Paul L. Friedman, Judge presiding, and the issues
having been duly tried and the Jury having render its verdict,
and the Court having granted additional equitable relief pursuant
to the Memorandum Opinion and Order entered this same day,
IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that judgment is entered is
entered for defendant DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA on the Retaliation
Claim; that judgment is entered for the plaintiff DOROTHY
CHADWICK on the Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claim; that
judgment is entered for the plaintiff DOROTHY CHADWICK on the
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim; and that
plaintiff DOROTHY CHADWICK have and recover of and from the
defendant DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA the sum of THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND
DOLLARS ($300,000) for compensatory damages and SIXTY-THREE
THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED EIGHTY DOLLARS AND SIXTY-ONE CENTS
($63,980.61) in back pay, plus prejudgment interest thereon,
together with costs.