When the plaintiff's testimony is the only evidence of her emotional distress and she has not introduced evidence of physical damage or the need for professional care, there must be "'reasonable probability, rather than a mere possibility, that damages due to emotional distress were in fact incurred as a result'" of the unlawful act. Spence v. Board of Ed., 806 F.2d 1198, 1201 (3d Cir. 1986); see Rush v. Scott Specialty Gases, Inc., 930 F. Supp. 194, 199 (E.D. Pa. 1996), rev'd in part, 113 F.3d 476 (3d Cir. 1997).
Valentin's testimony was sufficient to justify some damages for pain and suffering, but the issue is whether Valentin's testimony was sufficient, without additional evidence, to support an award of $ 209,000. The court must determine whether the jury had "a reasonable basis" for awarding that amount. Bolden v. SEPTA, 21 F.3d 29, 32 n.1 (3d Cir. 1994).
Valentin did not offer any evidence other than her own testimony that she was "depressed" and upset by her termination. See N.T. (10/22/96) at 168-69. "It was very humiliating" for Valentin to have to explain the circumstances of her termination to future employers. See N.T. (10/24/96) at 8-10. The undisputed evidence was that Valentin functioned well enough to obtain a suitable position a few months after her termination.
The $ 209,000 emotional damage award was grossly excessive. Valentin presented no evidence that could have allowed the jury reasonably to arrive at that figure for retaliatory termination alone. When the only evidence presented in support of an award of compensatory damages is the plaintiff's "thin evidence of rather limited damages," the plaintiff can only recover "a minimal award for intangible injuries." Hetzel v. County of Prince William, 89 F.3d 169, 171 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 136 L. Ed. 2d 514, 117 S. Ct. 584 (1996).
In these circumstances, an award of compensatory damages in the amount of $ 209,000 shocks the conscience of the court. See Keenan, 983 F.2d 459 at 469. The excessive size of the emotional distress award is unfairly prejudicial to Crozer and indicates the jury's verdict on liability may have been based on unguided passion or the alleged national origin discrimination. See Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991). Judgment as a matter of law has been granted on claims that may well have improperly influenced the damage award.
To avoid the necessity of a new trial, a remittitur is an appropriate remedy. Therefore, the court will conditionally grant a new trial unless the plaintiff accepts a judgment in the amount of $ 117,407.92 ($ 45,000 in past lost wages, plus $ 19,757.92 in future lost wages, plus $ 52,250, one-fourth of the $ 209,000 emotional damage award).
In the event the court's grant of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Crozer on the discrimination claims and the retaliation claim based on Crozer's activity between September, 1993, and February, 1995, is reversed, the court conditionally grants Crozer's motion for a new trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(c)(1).
Valentin did not present sufficient evidence to justify the jury's finding of liability on her national origin discrimination claim. Crozer offered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing her: her encouragement of other employees not to report laboratory errors. Valentin did not carry her burden of proving Crozer's decision to terminate her was a pretext for discrimination because of her Puerto Rican national origin. The court will grant judgment as a matter of law in favor of Crozer on Valentin's national origin discrimination claim and conditionally grant a new trial on liability and damages.
On Valentin's retaliation claims, there is no evidence from which a jury could find retaliatory treatment between September, 1993 and February, 1995. But a jury could reasonably find, on the record as a whole, that Crozer's reasons for terminating Valentin were pretextual and in retaliation not only for the EEOC charges but also for her participation in a fact-finding conference with the EEOC and Crozer officials five weeks before. The court will grant a new trial on liability and damages for retaliatory termination because of the excessive damages, subject to plaintiff's accepting a remittitur to $ 117,407.92.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 3d day of November, 1997, upon consideration of defendant Crozer-Chester Medical Center's ("Crozer") renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, plaintiff Maribel Valentin's ("Valentin") response thereto, and in accordance with the attached Memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that:
1. On Valentin's claims for national origin discrimination and retaliatory treatment between September, 1993 and February, 1995:
a. Defendant Crozer's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is GRANTED ; judgment is ENTERED in favor of defendant Crozer-Chester Medical Center on said claims.
b. In the alternative, defendant Crozer's renewed motion for a new trial is CONDITIONALLY GRANTED. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(c)(1).
2. On Valentin's claim for retaliatory termination:
a. Crozer's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is DENIED.
b. Crozer's renewed motion for a new trial is GRANTED unless Valentin accepts a remittitur of $ 117,407.92 within ten (10) days.
Norma L. Shapiro, J.