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Enforce discrimination rules to avoid NYC’s sky-high penalties

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

New York City employers, beware: The sky may be the limit for discrimination damage awards.

Federal law limits punitive damage awards in Title VII discrimination lawsuits to no more than $300,000 for large employers. New York state law doesn’t allow them at all. But the New York City Administrative Code discrimination provisions allow juries to award unlimited punitive damages.

It’s yet another reason to make sure your anti-discrimination policies are effective—and that you enforce them.

Recent case: Claudia Quinby, who lives and worked in New York City, claimed her former employer fired her because she complained about sex discrimination and to prevent her pension from vesting.

She sued under Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Administrative Code.

A jury concluded Quinby had indeed been discriminated against and awarded her $747,000 in back pay, $500,000 in compensatory damages (mainly for emotional distress) and $1.3 million in punitive damages. Her former employer asked the trial court to reduce the damages.

The court did reduce some of the damages. It trimmed the emotional damages to $300,000, noting that Quinby was a wealthy woman with a Fifth Avenue apartment. Therefore she isn’t as vulnerable to the effects of discrimination as someone for whom losing a job could also mean losing a home, medical care and other necessities.

The court also reduced the punitive damages to $750,000. The total tab for the case is still nearly $2 million, plus attorneys’ fees. (Quinby v. WestLB, No. 04-Civ-7406, SD NY, 2008)

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