Katt v. City of New York, 95 CIV 8283 GEL.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtLynch
Citation151 F.Supp.2d 313
PartiesAlli KATT, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF NEW YORK and Anthony Dipalma Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 95 CIV 8283 GEL.,95 CIV 8283 GEL.
Decision Date21 June 2001
151 F.Supp.2d 313
Alli KATT, Plaintiff,
CITY OF NEW YORK and Anthony Dipalma Defendants.
No. 95 CIV 8283 GEL.
United States District Court, S.D. New York.
June 21, 2001.

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Eric F. Leon, Kirkland & Ellis, New York City (Scott R. Samay, Kirkland & Ellis, New York City, David A. Kotler, Dechert Price & Rhoads, Princeton, NJ, of counsel), for Plaintiff Alli Katt.

Kevin J. Smith, Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York City (Michael D. Hess, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, Patricia B. Miller, Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York City, of counsel), for Defendants New York City and Anthony DiPalma.


LYNCH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Alli Katt, a former civilian employee of the New York City Police Department, sues the City of New York ("City") and Lieutenant Anthony DiPalma ("DiPalma") (together the "defendants"), claiming that they subjected her to a sexually hostile working environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290, et seq. and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code § 8-101, et seq. ("NYCHRL") Following a verdict in plaintiff's favor for $400,000 in compensatory damages against both defendants, plus $1 million in punitive damages against the City, defendants move for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, for a new trial under Rule 59. Defendants also move in the alternative for remittitur of the jury's damage award. In a matter of first impression, the City claims in its Rule 50(b) motion that the NYCHRL does not abrogate its common law sovereign immunity from punitive damages, and that the punitive damage portion of the jury's verdict must therefore be set aside. For the reasons that follow, the Court accepts the City's interpretation of the NYCHRL, and strikes the jury's punitive damage award

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as a matter of law, but rejects all of defendants' other claims in their entirety. Accordingly, defendants' motions are granted in part, and denied in part.


A. Procedural History

Because the procedural history of this civil rights case is lengthy and labyrinthine, only its most relevant portions are recounted here.

On July 27, 1995, the plaintiff Alli Katt ("plaintiff" or "Katt") filed a pro se complaint1 in this Court asserting, among other things, that she had been subjected to a sexually hostile working environment while employed by the City as a civilian Police Administrative Aide ("PAA") in the New York Police City Department ("NYPD"), and wrongfully terminated from that position in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 42 U S C § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"). The City of New York, the NYPD, and four individual police officers were named as defendants. That was the first step of an almost six-year journey in which this case has been transferred amongst four different federal judges, pruned of irrelevant or unsupportable claims, and withered through endless discovery and motion practice.

On September 28, 2000, the case was transferred to me. By then, discovery appeared to have been completed, with all of the necessary pretrial filings, including proposed verdict sheets, jury instructions, and a joint pretrial order, having been fully submitted as of August 1999. Yet from the record, it appeared that no action had been taken in the case since January 20, 2000, when Judge Richard A. Berman denied a defense motion for partial summary judgment. I immediately ordered the parties to appear for a case management conference to discuss the procedural posture of any pending motions, to determine what issues might be appropriate for trial, and to set a tentative trial date. At that conference the parties agreed that Judge Berman had intended, pursuant to his individual practice rules, to accept a second round of summary judgment papers before proceeding with trial. I accordingly permitted the defendants to renew their motions for summary judgment, and requested that they provide the Court with any prior submissions believed relevant. I further requested that the defendants enlarge their motion with whatever material they thought necessary to make their papers fully dispositive of outstanding issues In order to conserve the Court's and the parties' resources, and because plaintiff had already addressed some of the outstanding issues in prior submissions, I directed plaintiff not to submit an additional response until further order of the Court

The Court received the defendants' papers one month later The defendants argued, principally, that no triable issues supported the plaintiff's allegations of sexual harassment, that there was no evidence to support a claim against three of the individually named defendants, and that plaintiff's excessive absences barred her ADA claim as a matter of law. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Summ J of 11 9/2000) On December 13, 2000, the Court dismissed the claim against the NYPD pursuant to New York City Charter § 396, and directed the plaintiff to respond to the defendants' arguments with respect to the civil rights and ADA claims. See Katt v. City of New York, 95 Civ. 8383(GEL) (S.D.N.Y.

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Dec. 13, 2000) (order granting partial summary judgment). On January 22, 2001, the Court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to three individual defendants, and dismissed plaintiff's state law disability claim, but denied the motion in all other respects, thereby allowing the plaintiff to proceed to trial against the City and Lieutenant DiPalma. See id. (Jan. 22, 2001) (second order granting partial summary judgment). Plaintiff withdrew her federal ADA claim on the eve of trial.

By the time the parties submitted their second joint pretrial order, the parties had enjoyed ample opportunities in the course of more than five years of litigation to raise whatever issues they had deemed dispositive or worthy of pretrial consideration. Accordingly, the joint pretrial order submitted to me on February 13, 2001, boiled down plaintiff's requested relief to:

An award of compensatory damages for the pain and suffering, humiliation, degradation, emotional distress, and physical ailments she has suffered, as well as punitive damages in the maximum amount allowed by law, for defendants' creation and fostering of a sexually hostile work environment in violation of the New State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

(Joint Pretrial Order ("JPTO") of 2/13/2001 at 1)2 In addition to denying plaintiff's allegations, the City proposed to assert an affirmative defense under Burlington Indus. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 118 S.Ct. 2257, 141 L.Ed.2d 633 (1998) and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 118 S.Ct. 2275, 141 L.Ed.2d 662 (1998) ("Burlington-Faragher defense"), arguing that the NYPD exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior, and that plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the NYPD. (JPTO at 2.)

On February 16, 2001, the Court held its final pretrial conference, addressing a number of motions in limine, one of which will be discussed further below. Trial commenced on February 20, 2001; the jury returned its verdict on March 1, 2001.

B. The Trial

In setting forth the following salient facts, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and grants her every reasonable inference that the jury might have drawn in her favor. See, e.g., Hannex Corp. v. GMI, Inc., 140 F.3d 194, 203 (2d Cir.1998) (in ruling on a post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law "a court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmovant and grant that party every reasonable inference that the jury might have drawn in its favor") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In fairness, however, it must be emphasized that the defendants' lay and expert witnesses fervently disputed the plaintiff's contentions, and the Court will note, where relevant, the issues on which there was conflicting testimony. The trial essentially presented a question of credibility, pitting plaintiff's account of her relationship with her supervisor DiPalma against his sharply contrasting account of the same events, much of the remaining evidence was offered in an effort to corroborate one side or the other.

1. Katt's Career at the NYPD

All of the events relevant to this case occurred in the period beginning in December 1990, when Katt was hired to work in the NYPD, and ending in November 1992, when she was terminated from her employment there

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On December 10, 1990, Katt was hired by the City to work as a PAA in the NYPD. Following the completion of a civilian-employee training program at the City's Police Academy, Katt was assigned to the NYPD's Seventh Precinct, where, beginning on January 11, 1991, she regularly worked a weeknight "tour" from 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., until her termination on November 13, 1992. (Tr. 61.) At all times relevant to this case, Katt was under the direct supervision and management of defendant DiPalma, the Lieutenant who was generally in charge of all employees at the Seventh Precinct during Katt's shift. As a PAA, Katt's basic job responsibilities consisted of answering the precinct telephone, directing calls, fielding complaints, and providing general secretarial support services to police officers and ranking supervisors. (Id. 63-64) The evidence demonstrated that Katt performed her job responsibilities at or above a satisfactory level.

Beginning in August of 1992, Katt missed numerous days of work. These absences were partially due to physical and emotional injuries Katt suffered following a violent assault at the hands of an ex-boyfriend (Id. 153-54.) Trial evidence...

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