Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Revisiting Kolstad V. American Dental Association: Reform of Punitive Damages Awards in Employment Discrimination Cases since the Supreme Court Adopted the Standard of Malice or Reckless Indifference

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Revisiting Kolstad V. American Dental Association: Reform of Punitive Damages Awards in Employment Discrimination Cases since the Supreme Court Adopted the Standard of Malice or Reckless Indifference

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Prior to Congress' enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ("1991 Act"), prevailing plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases were entitled to only a limited number of remedies, which did not include punitive damages. In a sweeping move, it appeared that Congress had changed the landscape of federal employment discrimination litigation with the 1991 Act, as 42 U.S.C. secs1981a(b)(1) allowed for recovery of exemplary or punitive damages in cases where the complaining party demonstrated that an employer had engaged in discriminatory practices with "malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual."1 Nevertheless, appearances are sometimes deceiving, and indeed, this was the case with punitive damage awards in federal employment discrimination cases for the next eight years following the passage of the 1991 Act.2 Within a few years following the Act's passage, a clear split developed among federal circuit courts over whether the punitive damages allowed under the 1991 Act required a showing of "extraordinarily egregious" conduct or whether the lesser showing of intentional discrimination satisfied the statute's prerequisites for an award of punitive damages.3

V. CONCLUSION

The Supreme Court thoughtfully resolved the dilemma regarding punitive damages awards in employment discrimination cases in its opinion in Kolstad, and the circuit courts of appeals have subsequently endorsed this finding in the several opinions cited herein. However, questions surrounding the punitive damage awards still remain. …

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