Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

TITLE VII AND THE COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE: EVALUATING THE NOT-SO EQUITABLE REMEDY IN EEOC V. CONSOL ENERGY

Academic journal article Boston College Law Review

TITLE VII AND THE COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE: EVALUATING THE NOT-SO EQUITABLE REMEDY IN EEOC V. CONSOL ENERGY

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Every year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") receives nearly 90,000 claims of workplace discrimination.1 Accordingly, the agency engages in substantial litigation to prosecute employers infringing upon the federally protected rights of American employees.2 Each time the EEOC goes to trial, it has two goals: to deter the employer from engaging in future discrimination, and to correct the injuries suffered as a result of the employer's unlawful practices.3

The EEOC undertook this mission in its 2013 charge against Consol Energy, Inc. for its alleged failure to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of Beverly Butcher.4 The litigation resulted in a victory for Butcher, whose award of nearly half a million dollars in damages was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Consol Energy, Inc. in 2017.5 In rendering this decision, the Fourth Circuit clarified its own position regarding the incorporation of fringe benefits into an equitable damages award: that all benefits not issued directly by the employer to the employee are considered collateral and therefore cannot be offset from an award of front or back pay.6 This rule is similar to the position adopted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third and Seventh Circuits, and at odds with the discretionary approach advocated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First, Second, and Fifth Circuits.7

This Comment argues that the Fourth Circuit erred in removing a matter of discretion from the capable determination of trial courts.8 This Comment further argues that the Second Circuit has adopted a rule that better fits the statutory goals of Title VII, specifically that of providing an equitable remedy to the victim of unlawful discrimination.9 Part I of this Comment introduces the collateral source rule, discusses the split in authority between federal courts of appeals regarding the offset of certain benefits from damage awards, and examines the factual and procedural history of Consol Energy.10 Part II of this Comment discusses the different approaches the Fourth Circuit has taken in categorizing fringe benefits over time.11 Finally, Part III advocates for a rule affording district courts broad latitude in deciding issues of equitable relief.12

I. OVERVIEW OF THE COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE

Courts have adopted a number of different approaches in calculating damage awards following employment discrimination verdicts. Section A of this Part examines the remedy provision of Title VII and describes the interplay between the collateral source rule and damage awards. Section B of this part details the split of authority regarding the application of the collateral source rule to retirement benefits.

A. Fringe Benefits as Collateral Source Benefits

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") has two primary objectives: ending unlawful discrimination in the workforce, and making victims whole who have endured unlawful discrimination.13 To achieve these ends, the enforcement provision of Title VII provides courts with a full suite of equitable remedies and broad discretion in fashioning damage awards, which are determined in a separate evidentiary hearing following a jury verdict.14 These evidentiary hearings feature testimony from economic experts on both sides, each attempting to quantify the monetary benefits the victim would have received but for the unlawful discrimination.15 One issue during such proceedings is whether fringe benefits should be classified as either collateral sources or interim earnings.16

Under the collateral source rule, benefits received by a plaintiff wholly independent of and collateral to the tortfeasor do not diminish the damages the plaintiff can receive.17 This ensures that tortfeasors are not able to minimize their liability simply because the victim received incidental benefits as a result of the tort. …

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