In the recent decision of Battaglia v. United Parcel Services, Inc., 214 N.J. 518 (2013), the New Jersey Supreme Court limited the ability of an aggrieved Plaintiff to obtain damages for future emotional distress under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The Plaintiff in Battaglia was an employee of the United Parcel Services, Inc. (UPS), who held several positions throughout his career. While working in the Bridgewater UPS facility, the Plaintiff supervised Wayne DeCraine, and he twice reprimanded him for making overtly sexual comments about female employees. Through a series of career moves, Mr. DeCraine subsequently became the Plaintiff’s supervisor at UPS.
While Mr. DeCraine was the Plaintiff’s supervisor, he made numerous sexually inappropriate comments regarding women, not only in front of the Plaintiff, but also in front of other male employees. The Plaintiff, along with other UPS supervisors, held a meeting with Mr. DeCraine where his inappropriate behavior was discussed. Thereafter, the Plaintiff sent an anonymous letter to Human Resources in which the Plaintiff made complaints of improper behavior occurring within the rank of UPS.
Subsequently, the Plaintiff was demoted for alleged incidents of poor behavior. He filed a lawsuit under the Law Against Discrimination wherein he alleged retaliation for his prior complaints and emotional distress. The jury found for the Plaintiff, and awarded $500,000 in emotional distress damages, which included damages for future emotional distress and personal hardship. The emotional distress award was later reduced by the trial court to $205,000. Both parties appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed the award for emotional distress damages. The Court held that the trial court erred by allowing the Plaintiff to seek damages for future emotional distress without expert evidence of permanency. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision. In its holding, the Supreme Court recognized the Plaintiff’s right to recover for emotional distress, including humiliation and embarrassment, under the Law Against Discrimination. If, however, a Plaintiff is seeking damages for expected future harm, the Plaintiff must support such a claim with credible, competent evidence, including expert testimony.
The Battaglia decision clarifies the evidence needed to support a claim for emotional distress under the Law Against Discrimination. While a Plaintiff may obtain damages for embarrassment and humiliation he or she endured in the face of discriminatory conduct based solely upon lay testimony, to obtain an award for future emotional distress, he or she must provide expert testimony of permanency.
By Daniel B. McMeen, Esq.