United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO APPLY
STATUTORY CAP TO JURY VERDICT (DKT. 110)
MARK A. GOLDSMITH
matter is before the Court on Defendant Samsung SDI America,
Inc.'s (“SDIA”) motion to apply statutory cap
to jury verdict (Dkt. 110). At trial in this case, the jury
awarded Plaintiff Beth Sommers-Wilson $130, 000 in past
economic damages, $100, 000 in past non-economic damages, and
$625, 000 in punitive damages on her federal and state
retaliation claims; the jury found no cause on
Plaintiff's federal and state gender discrimination
claims. The parties do not dispute that the statutory cap in
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3) applies, but do dispute how
large the cap is. SDIA argues that punitive damages are
capped at $50, 000, see 42 U.S.C. §
1981a(b)(3)(A), while Sommers-Wilson argues that punitive
damages are capped at $300, 000, see 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981a(b)(3)(D). For the reasons that follow, the Court
grants SDIA's motion and caps Plaintiff's punitive
damages at $50, 000.
VII caps punitive damages based on the number of persons
employed by the respondent. See 42 U.S.C. §
1981a(b)(3). The parties dispute the meaning of
“respondent” in the context of this case; SDIA
argues that only SDI America, as the named defendant in the
case, is a respondent, while Sommers-Wilson contends that
SDIA's parent company, which Sommers-Wilson identifies as
SDI Co Ltd., is also a respondent.
Sixth Circuit has not articulated which party bears the
burden of proof of establishing the number of employees in
applying the statutory cap, but other courts in this circuit
have placed it on the defendant. See Herring v. SCI
Tennessee Funeral Services, LLC, No. 15-280, 2018 WL
2399050, at *6 (E.D. Tenn. May 24, 2018). If SDIA
successfully proves the number of employees at that entity,
the burden will shift to Sommers-Wilson to prove that the
number of employees should also include the employees at some
other entity. See Shipley v. Hypercom Corp., No.
09-0265, 2012 WL 12872905, at *8 n.15 (N.D.Ga. Apr. 10, 2012)
(collecting cases in which the plaintiff bore the burden of
showing “that other related companies should be
integrated with the defendant employer, bringing the employee
total up to a higher damages cap”).
SDIA has shown persuasively that the size of the company at
the time of the retaliatory conduct was under 100 employees.
See Corrado Decl., Ex. 2 to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 110-3).
Sommers-Wilson has not disputed the number of employees at
SDIA, and her rebuttal argument that the Court should
consider the number of employees at SDIA's parent company
is unavailing. Sommers-Wilson cites only one case in which
the size of a parent company was utilized in a Title VII
statutory cap analysis. See Herring, 2018 WL 2399050
at *7. That case involved a similar dispute to this one, in
that the defendant sought to reduce the award of punitive
damages to $200, 000 based on the size of the respondent
company, while the plaintiff argued that the award should
only be reduced to $300, 000 based on the size of the
respondent company's parent company.
analysis in Herring, which itself did not include
citations to any relevant case law and indeed noted the lack
of “clear guidance from this Circuit on this
issue”, id. at *7, relied on various factors
in determining that there was no real distinction between the
parent company and the respondent company. Id. These
factors included the “intimate” involvement of
the parent company in the respondent company's personnel
matters, the common human-resources policies and procedures
between the two companies, the respondent company's use
of the parent company's letterhead for performance
evaluations and other relevant employee documents, the fact
that the ultimate decisionmakers regarding the termination
were employees of the parent company, and that the fact the
EEOC position statement entered as evidence was sent from the
Sommers-Wilson has argued only that Robert Schaffernak, the
boss of SDIA General Manager Stefan Roepke and an SDI Co Ltd.
employee,  was intimately involved in the decision to
fire her and that Sommers-Wilson interacted with SDI higher
management on a trip to Korea. See Pl. Resp. at 3
(Dkt. 114). However, unlike in Herring, SDIA
utilized its own human-resources processes and professionals
in initiating and investigating Sommer-Wilson's claim;
further, the testimony at trial established that Stefan
Roepke initially suggested the firing of Sommers-Wilson, even
though he did report this decision to Schaffernak,
see 1/10/2019 Tr. at 140 (Dkt. 123). Given this, it
could not be said that Schaffernak, or any entity besides
SDIA, was intimately involved in the termination decision.
SDIA has shown that it employed fewer than 100 employees at
the time of the retaliatory conduct, and because
Sommers-Wilson has not shown that the Court should consider
some other entity as the “respondent” in this
case, the Court grants SDIA's motion. Punitive damages in
this case shall be capped at $50, 000, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
Sommers-Wilson is entitled to $280, 000 in damages - $130,
000 for past economic damages, $100, 000 in past non-economic
damages,  and $50, 000 in punitive damages.
Plaintiff shall file a proposed judgment in accordance with
this order by April 19, 2019. Defendant
shall file any objections to this proposed judgment by
April 26, 2019.
 “(3) Limitations
The sum of the amount of compensatory damages awarded
under this section for future pecuniary losses, emotional
pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of
enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses, and the
amount of punitive damages awarded under this ...