A New Jersey appeals court on Monday affirmed a $525,000 award to a Clifton woman in a hostile workplace environment and unlawful retaliation lawsuit against her employer.
The three-judge panel, in an unpublished but signed opinion, rejected numerous defense theories as to why the award to plaintiff Marilyn Velez should be overturned.
“We have considered these arguments in light of the record and applicable legal principles,” said Appellate Division Judge Greta Gooden Brown. “We reject each point and affirm.”
An Essex County jury awarded the damages to Velez in April 2014.
Velez worked as a customer service representative at RockTenn Co., a corrugated box company in Newark, from November 2010 to April 2011. She claimed that her boss, Raymond Perry, asked her out on dates, stared at her breasts, said he liked Latin women, suggested she engage in a threesome with him and his girlfriend and made inappropriate comments about her body and appearance.
Velez says she complained to human resources administrator Luz Aguado-Gomez about Perry’s actions at least 10 times. Once, Aguado-Gomez saw Perry harassing Velez and reported the incident to human resources director Marilyn James, and others also complained about Perry’s conduct, but no action was taken against him, the suit said.
On April 1, 2011, Velez was called into Perry’s office and was terminated by James, who said the reason was a decline in business. Velez claimed the reason for her firing was pretextual and that other job openings at the plant were being advertised at the same time.
After a 16-day trial before Judge Michelle Hollar-Gregory and five hours of deliberation, the jury awarded $75,000 on a hostile work environment claim, $200,000 on a retaliation claim against RockTenn and $250,000 on a retaliation claim against Perry.
Hollar-Gregory rejected the defendants’ posttrial attempts to overturn the verdict and Gooden Brown, joined by Judges Jose Fuentes and Marie Simonelli, rejected the same points on appeal.
“We reject defendants’ contentions that plaintiff failed to meet the reasonable woman standard and displayed unusual sensitivity; failed to establish that Perry’s actions were sufficiently pervasive or severe to alter the working conditions; failed to establish that the conduct occurred because of her gender; failed to show damages as a result of the hostile work environment; and failed to show a causal link between the discrimination and the adverse employment action,” Gooden Brown said.
“As to the sexual harassment claims … the severe and pervasive standard can be satisfied when the incidents are considered together,” Gooden Brown said.
“The record was replete with incidences of Perry’s ‘continuous and repeated sexually harassing behavior,’” the judge said.
And, Gooden Brown said, a court should grant remittitur only when the award “shocks the judicial conscience.”
“This award does not shock the judicial conscience and was supported by the evidence,” Gooden Brown said.
Velez was represented by Luis Hansen, of Outten & Golden in New York.
RockTenn and Perry were represented by John MacDonald, of Constangy, Brooks, Smitih & Prophete in Lawrenceville. Neither returned telephone calls seeking a comment on the decision.