On April 15, 2005, a fraternal organization of police officers of Asian or Pacific Islander descent and all officers filed this federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, on the grounds that they were passed over for promotion because of their race. The suit alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as 42 U.S.C. §1981 and 42 U.S.C. §1983. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for compensatory damages, declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees.
The eleven individual plaintiffs in this action are Asian American police officers employed by the defendant (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) who claimed they were denied promotion because of their race. All eleven of the plaintiffs are members of the Port Authority Police Asian Jade Society of New York and New Jersey Inc. ("Asian Jade Society"), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote good relations among the members of the Port Authority police department.
During the relevant period, the Port Authority utilized a promotion process where entry-level police officers could be promoted to the rank of Sergeant, the first level in the hierarchy of supervisory positions. Periodically, each facility's commanding officer would make a recommendation for officers for promotion, at their discretion, and after the applicant had passed an exam. Recommended officers would then be evaluated by the Chiefs' Board, each board member would vote for or against each officer and those who received a majority would be recommended to the superintendent; the board did not use any written guidelines. The ultimate decision to promote an officer belonged solely to the Superintendent and promotions occurred outside of this hiring process. As of January 31, 2001, no Asian American had been promoted to Sergeant.
The Asian Jade Society filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on behalf of the eleven members on January 31, 2001. The EEOC determined there was reasonable cause to believe race discrimination had occurred under Title VII. The plaintiffs filed suit on April 15, 2005, alleging that the Port Authority had discriminated against Asian Americans in making promotions to Sergeant.
On March 11, 2009, a nine-day trial commenced in the Southern District of New York, before Judge Miriam Cedarbaum. The jury found that the Port Authority's promotion practice had a disparate impact on Asian-American police officers and that the defendant had utilized a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination with respect to seven of the eleven plaintiffs. On April 14, 2010, Port Authority was ordered to pay the seven plaintiffs $1,637,622 in back pay and compensatory damages. Additionally, Port Authority was ordered to pay $2,357,659 in attorneys' fees and costs.
The Port Authority appealed the judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to support each plaintiffs' theories, that evidence barred by the statute of limitations was admitted, and that damages were awarded on time-barred claims. The four plaintiffs who did not prevail at trial cross-appealed and argued that the district court erred by excluding expert testimony.
On July 10, 2012, the Court of Appeals (Judge Dennis Jacobs) found the district court erred in impliedly instructing the jury that a common pattern of discrimination is an element of liability. The circuit court declined to extend the pattern-or-practice method of proof outside of the class action context (federal Courts of Appeals have consistently held that the pattern-or-practice method of proof is not available to private non class plaintiffs). The court affirmed the lower court's judgment with respect to the disparate impact and the individual disparate treatment claims. Where the plaintiffs relied on the continuing violations doctrine to prove disparate impact, the back pay and compensatory damages were reversed since the continuing violation doctrine does not apply to disparate impact proof. Failures to promote are considered discrete acts and the continuing violations doctrine requires conduct to be a part of an ongoing discriminatory policy.
The Second Circuit court easily affirmed the district court's judgment regarding the four plaintiffs who did not prevail at trial, finding no abuse of discretion. Ultimately, the court remanded for new trial all compensatory damages and equitable relief remedies and affirmed the back pay only for conduct that occurred within the requisite time period.
On remand, there is a notice that the parties were required to submit proposed verdict forms to the District Court by the end of June 2013 -- but there are no additional docket entries after that, as of November 2013.Silke Watson - 12/30/2013