In June 2011, high school student Bridgette Belton landed a job as a food server at Popeye’s Chicken Restaurant at 145th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.
Each day Bridgette would walk from school to the restaurant where she’d change out of her school uniform into a work uniform. A disgusting pattern of sexual harassment began almost immediately, two or three times a week, when her boss, the 30 year old married manager Ivan Pachecho, would touch her breasts and vagina while she changed uniforms in a locker room at the restaurant. He also inserted his hands into her pants, exposed himself to her and offered money for sexual intercourse (all of which she rebuffed and refused).
After six months on the job (20 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during the summer), Bridgette accumulated about $6,000 much of which she contributed to her financially struggling father and some of which she saved for herself. She could not withstand the harassment any longer and quit the job in December 2011.
In the ensuing lawsuit against her employers, on December 11, 2014, a Bronx County jury awarded Ms. Belton $300,000 for emotional distress damages plus $20,000 for compensatory damages for constructive discharge.
Defendants’ post-trial motion to set aside the verdict was granted in part – the judge reduced the emotional distress damage award to $100,000.
On appeal, though, in Belton v. Lal Chicken, Inc. (1st Dept. 2016), the $300,000 award was reinstated.
Here are the injury details:
- forced to leave high school in the middle of her senior year after her school work suffered
- withdrew from her friends, school-mates and family and no longer wanted to be around people during the six month period of the harassment and thereafter
- episodes of uncontrollable crying
- lowered self-esteem, confidence and motivation
- gained 85 pounds to make her less attractive to her boss
In September 2012, Bridgette enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where she discussed the facts of her sexual harassment (for the first time with anyone other than her lawyer) with Precious Sellars-Mulhern, Ph.D., a guidance counselor who is a clinical psychologist. Dr. Sellars-Mulhern testified at trial that plaintiff suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome (“PTSD”).
- The jurors deliberated for only 70 minutes before returning their verdict.
- On her last day at work, plaintiff surreptitiously made a videotape showing her boss touching her breasts and vagina and tampering with her zipper while she was trying to push him away. The tape was admitted in evidence and shown to the jury.
- Plaintiff’s attorneys were awarded legal fees in the sum of $64,000 pursuant to Section 8-502(g) of the Administrative Code of the City of New York.
- Douayi v. Carissimi (1st Dept. 2016) – emotional distress damages in the sum of $400,000 ($200,000 past – six years, $200,000 future – 50 years) for a 25 year old woman whose baby was stillborn due to medical malpractice. Only liability was challenged on appeal.
- Silipo v. Wiley (3rd Dept. 2016) – psychological damages in the sum of $64,000 affirmed for an employee whose boss, despite her protests, grabbed her, tried to engage her in sexual relations and ultimately fired her. She sustained debilitating psychological symptoms for several months and developed post-traumatic stress and adjustment disorders with anxiety.