In the aftermath of a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, legal experts expect that workplace discrimination lawsuit awards will escalate in coming years. In Cuevas v. Wentworth Group, New Jersey's top court permitted a $1.4 million award for emotional distress to two Hispanic men who alleged race-based harassment on the job, including wrongful termination. The court's decision also made it more difficult for companies to get trial judges to reduce jury awards.
According to the lawsuit, Ramon and Jeffery Cuevas, brothers, started their employment with Wentworth in 2005. Though they stayed with the company and moved up during their early days, they allege that they were continually exposed to hurtful language and comments because of their Hispanic heritage. Among the comments made to them were:
- The statement that Ramon could "wash the dishes" at a restaurant if he did not pay for the meal
- The reference to the brothers as the "Latin lovers," a comment made by the company's HR director
- A company executive's claim that he had to "order twice as much Mexican food and hire a salsa band" to satisfy the Cuevas brothers
In 2007, Jeffery Cuevas asked in-house counsel to put a stop to the harassment. Four days later, he was fired and immediately removed from the property, even though he had just received a $10,000 raise. A month later, Ramon was terminated under similar circumstances.
The brothers filed a lawsuit and the jury issued a verdict in their favor, which included $1.4 million in damages for emotional distress-$800,000 for Ramon and $600,000 for Jeffery. The defendants asked the trial judge to reduce the award, the judge denied the request and the defendants appealed.
In upholding the emotional damages award, the Supreme Court restated the longstanding principle of law that a jury award of damages is entitled to a "presumption of correctness," and should not be modified unless the defendant shows it to be a "miscarriage of justice."
CONTACT THE ATTORNEYS AT MALLON & TRANGER
We offer a free initial consultation to anyone who has been subjected to discrimination or harassment on the job. To set up a meeting, contact us online or call us at 732-702-0333 (toll free at ) for an appointment. We have offices in Freehold, Toms River and Point Pleasant.