Richardson v. Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc.

Decision Date24 August 2004
Docket NumberNo. 02-60117-CV.,02-60117-CV.
Citation334 F.Supp.2d 1303
PartiesMarinell RICHARDSON, Plaintiff, v. TRICOM PICTURES & PRODUCTIONS, INC., a Florida corporation, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Stuart A. Rosenfeldt, Michael Anthony Pancier, Shawn Logan Birken, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Dolin & Pancier, Fort Lauderdale, FL, for Marinell Richardson, plaintiff.

Clark Jones Cochran, Jr., Billing Cochran Heath Lyles & Mauro, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Gerard Joseph Curley, Jr., Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, Miami, FL, Gerard Joseph Curley, Jr., Rebecca Couts

Cavendish, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart, West Palm Beach, FL, Patrica Klein, Pompano Beach, FL, Romin N. Currier, West Palm Beach, FL, for James Trainer, Tricom Pictures and Productions, Inc., a Florida corporation, defendants.


ALTONAGA, District Judge.

THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Plaintiff, Marinell Richardson's Motion for Award of Equitable Remedies Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g) and Motion for Entry of Final Judgment Against Defendant (D.E. 276-1 & 276-2); and Defendant, Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc.'s Cross-Motion to Reduce the Jury's Advisory Verdict and for Remittitur (D.E.278). The Court has carefully considered the Motions, the response and reply memoranda, the argument of counsel, and applicable law.


Plaintiff, Marinell Richardson ("Richardson"), alleged in her Second Amended Complaint that she was employed as a sales representative by Defendant, Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc. ("Tricom"), between November of 2000 and June 29, 2001. She identified Defendant, James Trainer ("Trainer"), as her immediate supervisor. The Second Amended Complaint alleged various acts of physical and verbal sexual harassment of Richardson by Trainer during the course of Richardson's employment. Richardson also alleged that she was retaliated against by Tricom after she complained about Trainer's conduct, and that Tricom failed to pay her at the time-and-a-half overtime rate for hours she worked in excess of forty per week. These acts, it was alleged, violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, the Florida Civil Rights Act ("FCRA"), and Fla. Stat. § 760.10. Richardson further alleged state law tort claims against Tricom for negligent hiring, negligent training and supervision, negligent retention, and state law tort claims for battery and assault against Trainer. The various state law claims were dismissed prior to trial pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), which permits courts to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over nonfederal claims under certain conditions.

This matter was tried before a jury that rendered a verdict in favor of Tricom on Richardson's FLSA overtime claim (Count VII) and Title VII sexual harassment claim (Count I), and in favor of Richardson on her Title VII retaliation claim (Count I). As to the overtime claim, the jury found that Richardson did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she worked in excess of forty hours during any given workweek. As to the sexual harassment claim, the jury found that Richardson did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she was subjected to harassment of a sexual nature that was so severe or pervasive that it altered the terms and conditions of her employment and created an intimidating, hostile and abusive working environment.

As to the retaliation claim, the jury found that Richardson proved by a preponderance of the evidence that she was terminated because of her complaints about sexual harassment. The jury also found that Richardson proved by a preponderance of the evidence that she should be awarded damages to compensate her for a net loss of wages and benefits to the date of trial as a result of the retaliation. In an advisory verdict, the jury decided that the total amount of lost wages and benefits, i.e., back pay, that Richardson should receive is $20,000.00. However, the jury found that Richardson should not be awarded damages to compensate her for emotional pain and mental anguish, as she had failed to prove she suffered such damages by a preponderance of the evidence. Finally, in considering punitive damages, once again on an advisory basis, the jury recommended the assessment of punitive damages in the amount of $50,000.00, finding that Richardson proved by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) a higher management official of Tricom acted with malice or reckless indifference to Richardson's federally protected rights, and (2) Tricom did not attempt in good faith to comply with the law by adopting policies and procedures designed to prohibit discrimination in the workplace.

Richardson has now moved for the entry of an order awarding her equitable remedies and for entry of Final Judgment. Richardson seeks a declaration, pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202, that Tricom has violated her civil rights and the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII, as set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Richardson also seeks monetary relief, under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g), in the form of back pay (net of all interim earnings) in the amount of $59,208.00, or alternatively, if the Court determines that Tricom did present sufficient evidence that Richardson did not adequately mitigate her damages, $20,000.00 as awarded by the jury; prejudgment interest on back pay at the rate of 5.70%, in the amount of $3,374.86; one year of front pay in lieu of reinstatement in the amount of $30,000.00; punitive damages in the amount of $50,000.00 as awarded by the jury; and postjudgment interest in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1961(a). Richardson further requests that the Court enter an order entitling her to attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), the amounts of which may be determined by separate motion filed after the entry of judgment.

Tricom has moved to reduce the jury's advisory verdict and for remittitur. Tricom contends that Richardson's requests for declaratory relief, an increase of the back pay award to $59,208.00, and front pay of $30,000.00, should be denied, and the jury's back pay and punitive damages awards should be reduced.

Tricom has presented the following arguments, most of which the Court finds compelling: Richardson is not entitled to a declaratory judgment because a plaintiff cannot maintain an action for declaratory or injunctive relief unless she can demonstrate a good chance of being injured by the defendant in the future, which Richardson has not shown; the jury's advisory verdict of $20,000.00 in back pay should be reduced to $10,961.48 because it appears that the former did not take into account, or did not fully take into account, Richardson's failure to mitigate her damages; even if back pay is awarded, an additional award of prejudgment interest would not be equitable; Richardson is not entitled to front pay based on the same failure to mitigate damages, failure to present evidence that she is entitled to front pay, and failure to provide the necessary information to calculate an award of front pay; and the court should reduce the jury's punitive damages award, also to $10,961.48, because the award violates due process and because the evidence does not support the amount of the verdict.

A. Back Pay

Title 42, United States Code, Section 2000e-5(g)(1) states:

If the court finds that the respondent has intentionally engaged in or is intentionally engaging in an unlawful employment practice charged in the complaint, the court may enjoin the respondent from engaging in such unlawful employment practice, and order such affirmative action as may be appropriate, which may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement of hiring of employee, with or without back pay (payable by the employer ... responsible for the unlawful employment practice), or any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.

Back pay, and interest on back pay, are not "compensatory damages," and therefore are excluded from an award of compensatory damages for a Title VII violation. 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(2). "[A]n award of back pay is intended to make the claimant whole, not to confer a windfall." E.E.O.C. v. Joe's Stone Crab, Inc., 15 F.Supp.2d 1364, 1378 (S.D.Fla.1998). Towards this end, Title VII specifically provides that "[i]nterim earnings or amounts earnable with reasonable diligence by the person or persons discriminated against shall operate to reduce the back pay otherwise allowable." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1); Joe's Stone Crab, 15 F.Supp.2d at 1378. Therefore, "in calculating a back pay award, the trial court must determine what the employee would have earned had she not been the victim of discrimination, and must subtract from this figure the amount of actual interim earnings." Joe's Stone Crab, 15 F.Supp.2d at 1378.

While a successful Title VII claimant, such as Richardson, is generally entitled to an award of back pay, the claimant must make a reasonable and good-faith effort to mitigate her damages. Id. (citing Weaver v. Casa Gallardo, Inc., 922 F.2d 1515, 1527(11th Cir.1991)); Giles v. General Elec. Co., 245 F.3d 474, 492 (5th Cir.2001) ("Because it is an equitable remedy, back pay is subject to a duty to mitigate damages.") (citation omitted); Szedlock v. Tenet, 139 F.Supp.2d 725, 733-34 (E.D.Va.2001) ("While a Title VII plaintiff is generally entitled to back pay `as a matter of course,' the right of a plaintiff to claim back pay is limited by claimant's statutory duty to mitigate the employee's damages."). "[A] claimant must mitigate her damages by seeking employment `substantially equivalent' to the position she was denied." Joe's Stone Crab, 15 F.Supp.2d at 1378 (citing Weaver, 922 F.2d at 1527). It is the employer's burden to prove its mitigation defense to a Title VII back pay...

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