Slashed punitive award against city gets second look.

 
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Byline: Pat Murphy

The Appeals Court has found that a Superior Court judge failed to perform the necessary analysis to justify the slashing of a jury's $10 million punitive damages award in a race discrimination action brought by an African-American municipal employee allegedly called "uppity" by her manager.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury found the city liable under G.L.c. 151B for race discrimination and retaliation against the plaintiff, Chantal F. Charles. In addition to $888,000 in compensatory damages, the jury awarded the plaintiff $10 million in punitives.

In ruling on a defense motion for remittitur, Judge Elizabeth M. Fahey deemed the award excessive, employing the multi-factor test customarily followed by state courts and reducing the punitive damages award to $2 million.

But a unanimous panel of the Appeals Court concluded that Fahey committed errors in her analysis. In remanding the matter for reconsideration, the court issued additional guidance for lower courts and parties to consider in analyzing whether punitive damages are excessive.

"To be clear, we are not holding that as a matter of law this award was not excessive, or that an eighty percent reduction in the punitive damages award to $2 million would be an abuse of discretion," Judge Peter J. Rubin wrote for the panel. "Our remand is for the judge to reconsider the motion for remittitur under the principles we have articulated."

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Charles v. Leo, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 11-143-19 (45 pages)

THE ISSUE: Did a Superior Court judge perform the proper analysis to justify the slashing of a jury's $10 million award of punitive damages in a race discrimination action brought by an African-American municipal employee allegedly called "uppity" by a city of Boston manager?

DECISION: No (Appeals Court)

LAWYERS: Emma Quinn-Judge and Monica R. Shah, of Zalkind, Duncan & Bernstein, Boston (plaintiff)

Kay H. Hodge and John M. Simon, of Stoneman, Chandler & Miller, Boston (defense)[/box]

Heightened bar for remittitur

The plaintiff is represented by Boston attorneys Emma Quinn-Judge and Monica R. Shah. Quinn-Judge said the decision provides needed clarity on what a trial judge must consider when assessing the appropriateness of a punitive damages award.

"It's not sufficient to say remittitur is appropriate and then to simply remit," Quinn-Judge said. "[The judge must] actually give some sort of analysis as to why the number is appropriate."

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