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 ...