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Home 9 Federal Legal Corner 9 EEOC Awards $165,000 in Compensatory Damages

EEOC Awards $165,000 in Compensatory Damages

The EEOC recently awarded $165,000 in non-pecuniary damages for pain and suffering to an employee of the U.S. Postal Service who was subjected to a hostile work environment for over three years and then removed. Padilla v. USPS, EEOC Appeal No. 0120090062 (9/21/10). The Commission had previously found discrimination in EEOC Appeal No. 0120063761 (4/8/08) and ordered the agency to conduct a supplemental investigation on the issue of the complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages. This resulted in an award of $15,000 in non-pecuniary damages as the agency claimed that Padilla had not experienced any long-term mental or physical illness nor any emotional harm.

In reversing the agency’s final decision, the EEOC held that “evidence from a health-care provider or other expert is not a mandatory prerequisite for recovery of compensatory damages for emotional harm.” It went to state that:

Objective evidence of compensatory damages can include statements from the Complainant concerning his emotional pain or suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, injury to professional standing, injury to character or reputation, injury to credit standing, loss of health and any other non-pecuniary losses that are incurred as a result of the discriminatory conduct. Statements from others, including family members, friends, health care providers, other counselors (including clergy) could address the outward manifestations or physical consequences of emotional distress including sleeplessness, anxiety, stress, depression, marital strain, humiliation, emotional distress, loss of self-esteem, excessive fatigue or a nervous breakdown. The complainant’s own testimony, along with the circumstances of a particular case, can suffice to sustain his burden in this regard. The more inherently degrading or humiliating the defendant’s action is, the more reasonable to infer that a person would suffer humiliation or distress from that action.

The EEOC in making its award of $165,000 in compensatory damages noted that Padilla had asserted that he had both emotional and physical suffering since his termination, lost custody of his daughter, hasn’t been able to see his daughter since his former wife and daughter relocated, lost friendships, has slept in his car and frequently didn’t have any food. Padilla also averred that he was unable to afford to see a psychologist as he didn’t have any medical insurance. The Commission declined to review the award of $54,403.80 for reimbursement of Padilla’s withdrawal of funds from his Thrift Savings Plan account to support himself following his removal as neither party challenged this award on appeal.

However, the EEO refused to award more than $1,000 in attorney fees as the record didn’t include an affidavit submitted by Padilla’s attorney, only his account indicating monthly payments to his attorney for services rendered. The EEOC noted that the untimely invoices submitted on appeal did not detail the attorney’s hourly rate or clearly identify the services performed by the attorney. Thus the Commission limited its award of attorney fees to $1,000 based on an hourly rate of $250 per hour rather than the requested amount of $5,094.73. The reduction in attorney fees indicates the importance of a timely submitted detailed fee petition for attorney fees and expenses, including a printout of the time and costs incurred, the services rendered, and a sworn affidavit setting forth justification for the attorney’s requested hourly rate(s), fees and costs.