Schorr & Associates’ Employment Case of The Week ending October 21, 2016

Dimanche v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, 15 cv 10037 (D. Mass.)

On October 20, 2016, a Massachusetts federal jury handed down a verdict of $2,625,462.91, including $1.3 million in punitive damages in favor of a Massachusetts transportation worker in a racial discrimination and retaliation claim.

According to the Complaint and facts contained in the summary judgment opposition brief, Michelle Dimanche, a Black woman from Haiti, was a bus/trolley driver for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for 13 years.  She alleged that she suffered severe racial harassment, abuse by Caucasian co-workers, and a variety of racial epithets, including the N-word and the Italian word meaning the same thing.  When she repeatedly complained, she alleged that the Director of the Green Line, where she worked, vowed that he would get that “black bitch”.  It was that same Director who eventually signed the termination papers against Ms. Dimanche.

According to the Summary Judgment opposition, a series of false and fabricated disciplinary actions were taken against Ms. Dimanche which eventually led to her termination.  One of those disciplinary actions took place based upon an allegation that Ms. Dimanche had injured a passenger by closing a door on her leg.  According to Ms. Dimanche, she viewed the video, which clearly showed that she was not the responsible driver.  Apparently, the video recording then disappeared.  She allegedly was also disciplined for carrying a cup of water.

The emotional distress that Ms. Dimanche suffered was allegedly so serious that Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation held a trial and found that Ms. Dimanche’s emotional injuries were work-related and serious enough to warrant compensation and medical treatment.  The jury obviously believed Ms. Dimanche and disbelieved the testimony of the Transportation Authority.  She was awarded $1,325,462.91 in compensatory damages and an additional $1.3 million in punitive damages.

It is always shocking and disappointing to hear these allegations.  One would hope that we, as a society, have progressed.  Unfortunately, we hear about such racial harassment all too often.  We are fortunate that New Jersey, like Massachusetts, has strong anti-discrimination statutes.  This matter was brought under the federal race discrimination statute 42 U.S.C. §1981 and the Massachusetts Law About Discrimination, section 151 B.  Importantly, it was not brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, presumably because that statute contains a cap on emotional distress and punitive damages ranging from $50,000 to $300,000, depending upon the size of the employer.  By bypassing Title VII, this plaintiff avoided those caps.  New Jersey has no statutory caps on the amount that can be recovered under the New Jersey Against Discrimination.

This is another case demonstrating that employers need to be aware that discrimination in the workplace is unprofitable.

Trial Judge: Judge William G. Young.