Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Damages Windfalls

Here's a brief note on a case with a limited but important holding.
The Fifth Circuit recently joined the Sixth, Seventh, Tenth and the DC Circuit Courts of Appeals in holding that the damages caps under Title VII apply to all the claims brought by an individual, rather than to each separate claim of discrimination or retaliation.
The case involved a plaintiff who filed three Title VII claims against her employer, two for gender discrimination and one for retaliation. The plaintiff prevailed on all three of her claims and the jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages for each, or a total of $600,000. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision to reduce the total compensatory and punitive damage award to $200,000 based on the size of the employer (Title VII damages caps are tied to the size of the employer--$50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for employers with less than 101 employees, $100,000 for employers with less than 201 employees, $200,000 for employers with less than 501 employees, and $300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees). The employee argued that she was entitled to the full $600,000 because the caps should apply to each claim, rather than to all of her claims under. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, noting that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, in amending Title VII of the 1964 Act, plainly said that the damages were limited for "each complaining party".
This is a relatively straightforward issue, but one that further limits what seems to be an increasing exposure under Title VII.

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