Plaintiff-appellant-cross-appellee, Christine Bergerson, appeals from a judgment entered February 17, 2010, following a jury trial, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Hurd, J.). Defendant-appellee-cross-appellant, the New York State Office of Mental Health, Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC"), interposes a cross-appeal, designated as "protective," from the same judgment. Bergerson brought the action giving rise to the appeal under the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-17 (2006), claiming compensatory damages for disparate treatment and hostile work environment. She also brought parallel state law claims under the New York Human Rights Law. N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290-301 (McKinney 2010). Bergerson additionally sought backpay and reinstatement under Title VII and attorneys' fees. Prior to trial, the District Court ruled that neither the issue of backpay nor reinstatement (or front pay) would be submitted to the jury and that the court would hold a separate inquest on the issue of backpay and front pay if the jury returned a verdict in Bergerson's favor.
A jury trial was conducted in October 2009. Following trial, the jury found for Bergerson, awarding her $580,000 in compensatory damages, which amount was thereafter reduced by the District Court to the federal statutory cap of $300,000. The parties then made numerous post-trial motions, several of which are at issue in this appeal. First, CNYPC filed a motion to bar any award of backpay, which motion was granted by the court. Without holding a separate inquest into backpay and without having submitted the issue to the jury, the court found that "the magnitude of the jury's award ensures that [Bergerson] will be made whole for her injuries, including for any lost wages," and for any "pain, suffering, or emotional distress."
Bergerson moved, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), to amend the court's April 2009 decision granting summary judgment dismissing her state law claims as abandoned. By the motion, Bergerson sought to remove any reference to her having "abandoned" her state law claims and instead asked the court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims. She also moved for attorneys' fees, requesting an hourly rate of $275 for her trial counsel. As to the former, the court denied the motion, finding that Bergerson indeed abandoned her state law claims and, furthermore, that Bergerson did not oppose the court's dismissal until over six months later. As to Bergerson's application for attorneys' fees, the court awarded fees for all hours claimed by Bergerson's counsel but found the "prevailing hourly rate" in the Northern District to be $210 and awarded fees to Bergerson's trial counsel at that rate.
On appeal, Bergerson challenges the District Court's rulings on the post-trial motions regarding backpay, her state law claims, and the hourly rate applied to the award of attorney's fees. In its cross-appeal, designated as "protective," CNYPC argues against the relief sought by plaintiff, contending: (1) that the District Court acted within its discretion in both declining to amend its prior order dismissing Bergerson's state law claims and in awarding attorney's fees at the rate of $210 per hour; and (2) that remand is appropriate to "enable the district court to clarify its post-trial rulings as to compensatory damages and backpay." For the following reasons, we affirm the District Court's judgment as to Bergerson's state law claims and attorney's fees, but we vacate and remand to the District Court on the issues of backpay and front pay.
Miner '56, Roger J., "Bergerson v. NY State Office of Mental Health, 652 F. 3d 277 - Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 2011" (2011). Circuit Court Opinions. 91.