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Hostile work environment jury verdict affirmed, damages reduced

Hostile work environment jury verdict affirmed, damages reduced

A federal court has affirmed a jury’s hostile work environment verdicts against a nursing home in a case where a worker’s co-workers posted an Instagram photo comparing her to a chimpanzee from “Planet of the Apes,” but cut its punitive damages award to $50,00 from $250,000.

After home health aide Lisa Fisher complained to supervisors at the Mermaid Manor Home for Adults L.L.C. in Brooklyn, New York, about the Instagram photo, home officials spoke to one of the employees involved and issued an oral reprimand to the second, according to the Dec. 16 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn in Lisa Fisher v. Mermaid Manor Home for Adults L.L.C., which was just publicized.

But the home “did not exercise reasonable care in (an) attempt to eliminate the conditions of which plaintiff complained,” said the ruling, in upholding the jury’s August 2016 $25,000 damages award and finding sufficient evidence to support its findings of a hostile work environment and a retaliatory work environment.  

“As became clear during trial, the Instagram photo was merely a symptom of the hostile work environment created by defendant, and treatment of the symptom failed to cure the disease,” which involved Ms. Fisher, an African-American, and the two co-workers, who are from the Caribbean.

“Defendant consistently viewed the harassment suffered by plaintiff to be minor nuisances and permitted (one of the co-workers) to continue her harassment, destroying plaintiff’s dignity and eroding plaintiff’s ability to continue working,” said the ruling.

However, the court also held that the award of a 10-to-1 punitive damages ratio “shocks” the judicial conscience. “While defendant acted reprehensively, the disparity between the compensatory damages and punitive damages award to plaintiff is inappropriate,” said the ruling, in reducing the punitive damages award to $50,000 from $250,000.