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What Are Punitive Damages?

In employment discrimination and harassment cases, people are able to recover damages to compensate them for their losses. In some cases, the plaintiffs may also be able to recover punitive damages. These damages are meant to punish an employer for its wrongful actions and to deter future discrimination from occurring. The purpose of punitive damages is not to make you whole. Instead, they are meant to punish the defendant. They are not available in every discrimination case, however. The employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler may assess your potential claim in order to determine whether you might recover punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.

Understanding punitive damages in employment discrimination cases

When you sue your employer for workplace discrimination or sexual harassment, the law allows you to recover damages to compensate you for your losses. These damages might include lost wages, job search expenses, job reinstatement and others. Some states also allow you to recover damages for your emotional distress. These types of damages are based on your economic and noneconomic losses and are designed to make you whole. Punitive damages are ordered by courts not to compensate you but instead to deter future bad conduct by the defendant employer. Punitive damages may be awarded under a number of different federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sections 1981 and 1983, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Examples

In order to recover punitive damages, certain factors will need to apply. Under Title VII, the ADA and Sections 1981 and 1983, employers who have engaged in disparate treatment of a member of a protected class may be assessed punitive damages if the court finds that the employers acted with reckless indifference or malice. Employers may also be assessed punitive damages when their violations were clearly based on unlawful factors, and they failed to remedy them. For example, in one case in the Fourth Circuit, EEOC v. Fed. Express Corp, the court affirmed an award of $8,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The case involved a package handler who had a hearing impairment who was not provided with reasonable accommodations to participate in meetings or training by his employer.

When punitive damages might be awarded

Punitive damages will not be available in every discrimination case. Instead, they are normally awarded in cases in which an employer’s actions or omissions were intentional or in obvious violation of the law. There may also be caps on the amount of punitive damages that you might receive if they are ordered.

Courts will conduct an analysis to determine whether a punitive damages award is justified. In Kolstad v. Am. Dental Association, the U.S. Supreme Court held that plaintiffs must be able to impute liability to their employers for the unlawful discrimination that they experienced. They will also need to show that the employers engaged in the discriminatory actions with the knowledge that their actions might be in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

Limits on punitive damages

Some anti-discrimination laws have limits on the total amount of damages that people might receive, including punitive damage awards. The Supreme Court established some factors that courts should consider when assessing the reasonableness of an award of punitive damages in State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co. v. Campbell. Courts will look at the degree of reprehensibility of the employers’ actions, the difference between the actual harm that was suffered and the award and the differences between the award in the instant cases and similar cases.

If you have suffered discrimination at work based on a protected characteristic, you have legal rights. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler may be able to help you to recover damages to compensate you for your losses. You might also be able to recover punitive damages, depending on what happened. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.

Most Frequently Asked Question: Do I Have A Case?

While it is true that every case is different, The law is pretty clear in most cases. The best way to determine if you have a case is to contact one of our attorneys. For more information check out the FAQ below or visit our FAQ Page

Most Frequently Asked Question:
Do I Have A Case?

While it is true that every case is different, The law is pretty clear in most cases. The best way to determine if you have a case is contact one of our attorneys. For more information on a just a few scenarios checkout the flip box FAQ below or visit our FAQ Page.

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Cherry Hill, New Jersey 08034

Phone: (856) 685-7420
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Philadelphia, PA 19107

Phone: (215) 995-2733

Our Locations

Cherry Hill Headquarters

1101 Kings Hwy N
Suite 402
Cherry Hill, New Jersey 08034

Phone: (856) 685-7420
Fax: (856) 685-7417

Philadelphia Satellite Office

123 South 22nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Phone: (215) 995-2733