Search form

Front Pay Awards in Discrimination Cases Are Not Limited by Title VII's Monetary Cap: Supreme Court

  • July 1, 2001

In an unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an individual subjected to an unlawful hostile work environment is entitled to recover unlimited "front pay" damages for "lost" future earnings under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Where reinstatement is not feasible and front pay is ordered by the trial court, the statutory cap on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages an individual may recover as a result of a violation of Title VII rights does not apply to front pay, the Court determined. Pollard v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. ___ (2001).

The plaintiff sued her employer for sexual harassment resulting from a hostile work environment, claiming she was subjected to repeated insults, sabotage and shunning by co-workers. Although she had complained to management, the harassment continued until the plaintiff took a medical leave of absence to seek treatment for psychological injuries. She eventually was terminated for refusing to return to work in the same department.

At a trial before a Tennessee federal district court, the plaintiff was awarded back pay and benefits of over $107,000, attorney's fees of over $250,000, and $300,000 in compensatory damages, the maximum amount allowable under the statutory cap. The district court stated that the award of compensatory damages was "insufficient to compensate plaintiff." However, bound by a ruling of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that defined front pay as an element of compensatory damages, the trial court applied the $300,000 limit. Since the Sixth Circuit was the only federal appeals court to subject front pay awards to the statutory damages cap, the Supreme Court agreed to resolve the conflict.

Ruling unanimously, the Court concluded that the award of front pay was not subject to the statutory cap (which increases, up to $300,000, as the size of the employer's work force increases). In so ruling, the Supreme Court held that the Title VII remedy of front pay is akin to that of back pay because it makes the worker whole for lost wages. As such, it should not be treated as an element of compensatory or punitive damages and limited by the statutory cap.

Employment law experts note this decision clarifies but does not change the current state of employment law in most jurisdictions. However, from a practical standpoint, it focuses attention on how plaintiffs structure requests for remedies. Where reinstatement or continued employment is not an option, the potential for front pay damages can be significant. One of the ways employers can limit the risk is by having viable and effective outplacement strategies that provide meaningful assistance when former employees are making the transition from one workplace to another.

©2001 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm that built its reputation on providing workplace law representation to management. Founded in 1958, the firm has grown to more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries including government relations, healthcare and sports law. More information about Jackson Lewis can be found at www.jacksonlewis.com.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

December 3, 2019

Virginia Task Force Releases Recommendations to Address Worker Misclassification

December 3, 2019

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s Inter-Agency Taskforce on Worker Misclassification and Payroll Fraud has offered 11 recommendations in its report on employee misclassification. In August 2019, the Governor reconstituted a taskforce charged with providing recommendations on how to “measure and combat misclassification in Virginia.”... Read More

November 13, 2019

Healthcare Employers’ Title VII Obligations in Harassment, Discrimination of Employees by Patients

November 13, 2019

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires healthcare employers to protect their medical staff and employees from harassment and discrimination and respond to any such behaviors swiftly and effectively, even if the actor is a patient, rather than a coworker or supervisor. A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit... Read More

October 18, 2019

Pay the Piper – California Employers Pressed to Pay Arbitration Fees or Risk Harsh Consequences

October 18, 2019

California employers may face harsh consequences for failing to pay arbitration fees on time under a bill (Senate Bill 707) signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 13, 2019. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Under the new law, if an employer fails to pay fees required for the commencement or continuation of an... Read More

Related Practices