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Farfaras v. Citizens Bank and Trust of Chicago

January 11, 2006


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 01 C 8720-Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Chief Judge.


Before FLAUM, Chief Judge, and RIPPLE and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

A jury awarded the plaintiff, Jennifer Farfaras, a judgment of $200,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages against the individual defendants, Robert Michael, George Michael, and Nicholas Tanglis. The jury also awarded Farfaras a $200,000 judgment against Citizens Bank and Trust of Chicago, however, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(A), the district court reduced this latter award to $50,000.

In addition, the district court awarded Farfaras $436,766.75 in attorneys' fees and costs, plus $9,314.48 in lost wages.

The defendants now appeal. They request a new trial, claiming that unduly prejudicial evidence was admitted at trial. They also request a new trial or remittitur to reduce the damages awarded. Finally, the defendants advocate reduction of the attorneys' fees awarded.

For the following reasons, we now affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Background

The plaintiff-appellee, Jennifer Farfaras, filed the original claim in this case against Citizens Bank and Trust of Chicago ("Bank"), Michael Realty, Robert Michael ("Robert"), George Michael ("George"), and Nicholas Tanglis ("Tanglis") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Farfaras also sued for pendent common law claims of battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"), and assault. The district court granted summary judgment, dismissing all claims against Michael Realty and the Title VII claims against the individual defendants.

This case proceeded to trial on Counts I (battery), II (IIED), and III (assault) against each individual defendant, and on Count IV (sex discrimination) and Count V (sexual harassment) against the Bank. The jury found in Farfaras's favor on Counts I, II, III, and IV, but returned a verdict in favor of the Bank on Count V. On March 21, 2005, the district court denied the defendants' post-trial motions to set aside the verdict and to prevent the recovery of attorneys' fees. On April 15, 2005, the district court granted attorneys' fees to Farfaras.

Farfaras worked for twelve years in the banking industry as a branch manager and teller before being hired by Citizens Bank. The Bank is located across the street from Michael Realty, which is owned by defendants Robert and George Michael. The Michael brothers are also majority shareholders of Citizens Bank. Robert is Chairman of the Board and CEO; George is a Director. Defendant Nicholas Tanglis is the President of Citizens Bank and recruited Farfaras.

Farfaras began working for the Bank on April 13, 1999. Her employment continued until October 20, 2000. Evidence adduced at trial showed that throughout this time, Farfaras was subjected to a steady stream of inappropriate comments and actions by each of the three individual defendants. Farfaras testified about her encounters with Robert,

[He asked] what my ethnic background was. . . . I told him I was of Greek descent, and at that point he asked me if I cried when I found out. . . .

[A]bout a month and a half into my employment . . .[Robert] asked me if I was married or if I had a boyfriend, and he said that he didn't understand why I wasn't married or why I didn't have a boyfriend. He asked me if I was on drugs . . . an alcoholic . . . [or] if I was shopping at the malls too much. . . . [H]e said to me, "I don't understand why you're not married, you're like an angel." And he just kind of stared at me for a while, and he looked at me, and he said, "You know what, if only I was a little younger and Greek."

Farfaras also testified about her relationship with Tanglis and Robert's brother George. Farfaras stated that George also asked her about her Greek heritage and whether she "would have to [marry] a Greek boy?"

Farfaras further testified that on several occasions, Tanglis "asked me if I would be able to stay late," alone, in the closed bank. She told the jury that after talking about business Tanglis stopped, stared at her, sat down next to her,

And he proceeded to put his hand on my knee and rub my knee, and he would put his hand on my shoulder . . . and rub it, and he would tell me that we needed to go out to dinner and get to know each other better. . . .

I told him that I didn't appreciate him putting his hands on me . . . I grabbed my purse, and I got up to leave . . . He met me at the door, and he was trying to block my way out. . . . I asked him to please move out of my way. He didn't. . . . [I] had to push him out of the way so I could leave. . . . [I felt v]ery humiliated and scared . . . [and] afraid that I was going to go to work the next day and not have a job. . . . [The next day, s]ame thing. . . . I got up, and I asked him not to do that anymore. . . . He got up, and again he went to the door, and he blocked my way. I asked him to please move out of the way, and this time he positioned himself sideways so I would have to turn my body sideways in order to exit that doorway. So depending on how I was positioned to exit, I would either be rubbing up against him, my front or back. . . .

After about five or six times, I believe, I had enough, and I know that I was scared about losing my job, but at that point I didn't feel comfortable, safe, nor did I want to stay after work and be touched, so the last time he asked me to stay I told him that I was not going to be staying any longer[.]

The bank opened to the public on January 31, 2000. Farfaras would answer the phone at 9:00 a.m. every day when George would call. Farfaras testified that she began these conversations, "Good morning. Citizens Bank. This is Jennifer. Can I help you?" and George would answer, "Good morning Jennifer. Why don't you come over to my office and sit on my face[?]" In addition, Farfaras testified that George would call throughout the day, often telling Farfaras that he wanted to "lick [her] like an ice cream cone" or birthday cake and that he wanted to "fuck" her. Farfaras testified that George "just laughed" when she told him, "Please don't talk to me like that. That's disgusting. I don't appreciate it."

Farfaras stated that she was often required to visit George Michael in his office and that during these visits he would "give [her] a perverted look" and make "grunting, mumbling, sucking noises . . . put his hand on [her] butt and start laughing, or he would put his hand on [her] leg, and he would run it up to lift [her] skirt."

Additionally, Farfaras described telephone conversations with George.

[H]e would often tell me that he wanted to see me naked and that he wanted to fuck me and that he wanted his brother Robert to join in, he wanted to videotape the session so he could view it at a later date.

He told me that if he wasn't married that he would make me marry him whether my father wanted it or not even though he wasn't Greek, and we would have a big Greek wedding and we would be dancing in a circle with scarves in the air. . . .

[A]fter I had told him to stop talking to me like that, he would laugh, and he said to me, "You know what, my brother Bob and I have had so many sexual harassment complaints against us already that one more is not going to make a difference."

Farfaras related that these conversations continued throughout her employment.

Farfaras testified that in April of 2000, George cornered her in the bank's downstairs vault, grabbed her right arm, pinned her against the wall, and tried to kiss her.

When I saw his face coming at me, I turned my head, and instead of catching my lips, he caught half my ...

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