The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that employees cannot obtain “pain and suffering” awards from employers that violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. They can’t win punitive damages either. That’s good news for employers.
Recent case: Susan, a nurse, was fired from her job at Anderson Regional Medical Center. She sued under the ADEA, alleging age discrimination and retaliation. She requested punitive damages and demanded compensation for pain and suffering.
She appealed when the trial court said she could obtain neither. Her argument: The EEOC published enforcement guidance that states pain and suffering and punitive damages are available under the ADEA.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, siding with the trial judge. Ordinarily, the EEOC’s interpretation of a law it enforces is given great weight. However, the court concluded that the agency was wrong in this case. The court’s interpretation of the ADEA language precluded such damages based on a careful analysis of the legislative history—what Congress intended when it passed the ADEA—and the case law interpreting the ADEA.
Susan can obtain an award for lost wages, but she can’t get additional money for her emotional distress or to punish her former employer. (Vaughn v. Anderson Regional, No. 16-60104, 5th Cir., 2016)
Final note: This is the same question the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals answered in Pinda v. JTCH Apartments. The answer was different in that case; under the , employees can recover such damages.