District Court Awards Punitive Damages In Sex-Based Harassment EEOC Suit

by Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In E.E.O.C. v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C. No. CV 16-225, 2017 WL 5493975, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 16, 2017), a default judgement of liability was entered against the defendant company for sex-based harassment, and the Court awarded the EEOC back pay, prejudgment interest, and compensatory and punitive damages. Although the Court found that an award of compensatory damages above $50,000 would be consistent with cases with comparable emotional distress, the Court determined that it was not authorized by statute to award more than this statutory cap.

This is case is  important as a continuation of one of the first decisions to conclude that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by Title VII. We blogged about it here.

Although the EEOC’s recovery was not what it might have been due to the statutory cap, this decision is nonetheless an important reminder for employers that compensatory and punitive damages could easily add up, even in cases involving sex-based discrimination and murky areas of Title VII.

Case Background

In E.E.O.C. v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C. No. CV 16-225, 2017 WL 5493975, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 16, 2017), a default judgment on liability was entered against the defendant Scott Medical for sex-based harassment. The Court found that Dale Massaro, an employee of Scott Medical, was subjected to sex-based harassment in the form of anti-gay slurs and comments  directed at him by his supervisor, Robert McClendon. Id. Massaro reported the harassment to Gary Hieronimus, Scott Medical’s owner and CEO. Id. Rather than take action to stop the harassment, however, Hieronimus simply said that McClendon “was just doing his job.” Id.  After complaining to Hieronimus, the harassment continued, and Massaro quit his job. Id. at *2. Massaro then became depressed and suffered emotional distress for which he was treated by his family physician. Id.

The Decision

Scott Medical accepted a default judgment against it on liability but tried the issue of damages. After a trial on damages, the Court concluded that the EEOC proved by a preponderance of evidence that Massaro was entitled to a back pay award and prejudgment interest in the amount of $5,500.43. Id at *3. “Prejudgment interest on back pay awards,” the Court explained, “is appropriate to ensure that victims of discrimination are made whole.” Id.

The Court then calculated compensatory and punitive damages. Because Scott Medical had fewer than 101 employees, the applicable statutory limit on compensatory and/or punitive damages was $50,000. Id. at *5. Thus, although the Court concluded that the EEOC had proved that Massaro was entitled to at least $125,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, the EEOC’s recovery for Massaro was capped at $50,000. Id. at *5-6.

Critical to the Court’s damages award was that Scott Medical neither plead a “good faith efforts” affirmative defense to punitive damages nor presented any evidence to support such a defense. Id. at *5. The Court held that the evidence showed that Scott Medical made no efforts to comply with Title VII. Id. The Court concluded that Scott Medical’s CEO not only failed to take corrective action in response to Massaro’s complaint of harassment, but also actually ratified the harasser’s conduct by allowing the harassment to continue. Id. A good faith defense, the Court explained, is “unavailable for discriminatory acts committed by company officials who are of sufficient authority within the organization that they are deemed alter egos or proxies of the organization . . . .” Id.

Implication For Employers

Whether Title VII protects sex-based discrimination is an unsettled question and is likely hurtling towards the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, this case demonstrates that employers could face punitive damages for such violations. In other words, a “good faith efforts” affirmative defense might be unavailable even though the law to which the employer must make a good faith effort to comply with is unsettled.

While this areas remains hazy, employers should review their anti-harassment policies, and consider adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. In addition, employers will need to respond appropriately in the event of a complaint alleging harassment based on sexual orientation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Seyfarth Shaw LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth Shaw LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.