Prior to 1991, for claims filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, plaintiffs could seek only “equitable” remedies (such as back pay, front pay, reinstatement or injunctive relief requiring employers to start affirmative action programs or to refrain from discrimination). Compensatory and punitive damages were available only to racial claims under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
Since passage of the 1991 Civil Rights Act, jury trials now are allowed when the plaintiff alleges intentional discrimination and seeks compensatory or punitive damages. However, a jury can’t be told of the statutory limits on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages it can award. The cap ranges depend on the size of the employer’s work force:
- $50,000 for 15 to 100 employees
- $100,000 for 101 to 200 employees
- $200,000 for 201 to 500 employees
- $300,000 for more than 500 employees
Observation: These limits apply only to cases where intentional bias is found, and they don’t apply to many states’ anti-discrimination laws.
In a Title VII case in 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court found that this cap didn’t apply to damages awarded for “front pay” (i.e., money awarded for lost compensation from the time of judgment until the worker’s reinstatement). Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843 (2001) The court’s decision means that juries may now award damages for front pay in excess of the statutory cap, further increasing the risk of litigation for employers.
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