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Court Grants Remittitur in Former Prison Teacher’s Sexual Harassment Case – Total Award of $6.4 Million Plus Fees, Costs, Interest

by Matt Clarke

New York federal jury awarded a former state prison teacher $9.19 million after she proved that a guard had sexually harassed and stalked her – both at work and at home – and that high-ranking prison officials who were informed of the problem retaliated against her and did nothing to the offending guard.

The defendants filed post-trial motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a new trial, a reduction in the award and remittitur. On April 14, 2019, the district court granted a reduction in a portion of the award to the statutory maximum, granted a remittitur of $1.05 million, and awarded attorney fees, costs and pre-judgment interest.

Pamela S. Small was a civilian teacher working for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) at the Attica Correctional Facility when she met and befriended guard Carl Cuer, who also worked in the prison’s education department. Based in part on their shared Christian faith, their friendship went well for about four years. Then Cuer began telling Small that God had told him his wife was about to die and she would become his new wife. His behavior became increasingly alarming, and included stalking and implied death threats at work and home. She did not return his affections.

Small and her supervisor reported the harassment to prison officials. Instead of investigating, however, they retaliated against Small – even after a court issued a restraining order against Cuer.

Small’s mental and physical health deteriorated, and she was terminated after missing too many days of work on sick leave due to the stress.

With the assistance of Rochester attorneys Alina Nadir and Jennifer A. Shoemaker, Small filed a federal lawsuit alleging: 1) DOCCS subjected her to discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; 2) DOCCS retaliated against her in violation of Title VII; 3) Cuer, Attica Superintendent James Conway and Deputy Superintendent of Programs Sandra Dolce deprived her of her federally-protected right to be free from a hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and 4) Cuer aided and abetted unlawful discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of New York Rights Law § 296(6).

Following a 12-day trial in September 2018, the jury found in Small’s favor on each claim and awarded her $2.4 million in compensatory damages, $370,000 in back pay and $1.8 million in forward pay against DOCCS for the first two claims; $1 million in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages against Cuer, plus $480,000 and $240,000 in compensatory damages against Dolce and Conway, respectively, on the third claim; and $680,000 in compensatory damages, $370,000 in back pay and $1.8 million in forward pay on the fourth claim, for a total of $9.19 million.

The district court denied the defendants’ motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial, basically finding there was overwhelming and largely uncontested evidence in Small’s favor. It did, however, grant a reduction in the $2.4 million compensatory damages in the first claim to the Title VII statutory maximum of $300,000, and offered remittitur of the award for emotional and physical damages on the third claim, reducing it to $500,000 if accepted. All other awards were upheld.

Small accepted the remittitur and thus received a judgment totaling $6,484,622.14.

In conjunction with its remittitur ruling, the district court granted $862,395.30 in attorney fees plus $364,622.14 in pre-judgment interest and $100,448.72 in costs. It later awarded another $50,458.05 in supplemental attorney fees and $3,026.14 in costs. The defendants have since appealed to the Second Circuit. See: Small v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NY), Case No. 1:12-cv-01236-WMS-MJR. 

Related legal case

Small v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision