Copyright (c) 2000 Suffolk University
Suffolk University Law Review
CASE COMMENT: Employment Law - Independent Showing of "Egregious" Misconduct Not A Prerequisite For Punitive Damages Award Under Title VII
- Kolstad v. American Dental Association, 119 S. Ct. 2118 (1999)
34 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 219
Jonathan D. Starr
The Civil Rights Act of 1991, specifically 42 U.S.C. 1981a, authorizes the recovery of punitive damages in claims of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). 1 Based on the explicit language of 42 U.S.C. 1981a, however, an award of punitive damages may only be recovered when an employer "has engaged in a discriminatory practice or discriminatory practices with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual." 2 In Kolstad v. American Dental Association, 3 the Supreme Court of the United States considered whether an independent showing of "egregious" misconduct is required before punitive damages may be awarded in a Title VII case. 4 The Court held that a plaintiff is not required to demonstrate that an employer engaged in independent "egregious" misconduct as a prerequisite for an award of punitive damages under Title VII. 5
In 1992, the American Dental Association (ADA) promoted Thomas Spangler, rather than Carole Kolstad, to the position of Director of Legislation and Legislative Policy. 6 Kolstad sued the ADA under Title VII, alleging gender discrimination because it promoted Spangler instead of her. 7 Kolstad sought equitable relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. 8 A jury awarded Kolstad back pay in the amount of $ 52,718, based upon its determination that the ADA had unlawfully discriminated against her because of her gender. 9 The district court declined to provide the jury with an instruction regarding ...
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