On Saturday, March 9, 2024, Gothamist reported that New York lawmakers are looking to limit judges’ ability to cut jury awards in employment discrimination lawsuits.

According to the report, employees who win discrimination lawsuits against their employers in New York often only receive a fraction of the damages awarded by juries due to the state’s remittitur rule. This rule allows judges to lower awards if they believe the amount is unreasonably high. Critics argue this undermines justice for victims and does little to discourage biased practices.

In response, State Senator Andrew Gournardes is proposing legislation aimed at curbing excessive reductions of jury awards by judges. Under the bill making its way through the Senate, courts could only decrease awards in extraordinary circumstances brought on by jury bias or corruption. This standard aims to be more similar to those of neighboring states like New Jersey, where remittitur is meant as a corrective for absurdly disproportionate awards rather than routine cuts.

The report cites several examples where jurors granted sizable damages only to have judges drastically cut the amounts. One plaintiff was awarded $3 million in total but saw it reduced to $10,000. Another went from $1 million down to $50,000, a 95% decrease. A third dropped from $1.5 million to $50,000. Legal experts note punitive and emotional damages are most commonly affected due to being less concrete.

Proponents argue judges are better equipped than juries to determine appropriate monetary amounts. However, critics counter that the practice undermines employment discrimination law by allowing companies to view large payments as optional. Plaintiffs are also discouraged from pursuing valid claims or settling for less out of court due to the threat of cuts.

The story profiles one plaintiff, Röbynn Europe, who sued luxury gym chain Equinox for racial discrimination and wrongful termination. Jurors awarded her $1.25 million for suffering and $10 million in punitive damages, but the company filed to reduce the verdict before it was finalized. She ultimately settled for an undisclosed sum rather than face potential cuts, an experience she found equally taxing as the four-year trial.

Advocates argue strong penalties meaningfully enforced are the only way to change corporate conduct. But every time a major ruling is cut, it blunts the message to both the original victim and other possibly marginalized employees. While a law change won’t retroactively help all past plaintiffs, supporters contend it could help deter biased actions and treat future claimants more fairly in the justice system.

The Senate bill aims to balance jury authority with appropriate oversight in a manner activists argue still upholds the original intent of employment discrimination law in New York. If passed, it could alter the dynamics of how these cases are resolved.

 

 

Source: Gothamist