Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Supreme Court to Hear Issues about Illegal Discrimination Cases

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Supreme Court to Hear Issues about Illegal Discrimination Cases

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether workers must prove egregious gender or race discrimination to win punitive damages from a company in a federal job-bias lawsuit.

The case will give the high court a chance to resolve a difference of opinion among federal appeals courts around the country on the vulnerability of employers to awards designed to punish them for illegal discrimination. Most of those courts set a high bar for plaintiffs, saying they can't demand punitive damages without evidence of especially reprehensible conduct. Some judges, however, say a finding of intentional discrimination is enough to warrant punitive damages, even if the conduct isn't "egregious."

"That's a real important issue for employers," said Don Livingston, a Washington employment law attorney and former general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "It's probably an issue in every case." Workers file some 24,000 employment discrimination cases a year in federal courts. The nine justices will consider a lawsuit filed by Carole Kolstad, who sued after being passed over for a top government affairs position with the American Dental Association in Washington. Kolstad claimed the ADA "pre-selected" a male co-worker for the job and, because she was a woman, never fairly considered her qualifications. A federal jury sitting in Washington agreed, awarding Kolstad almost $53,000 in back pay. A judge, however, refused to let that jury decide whether Kolstad should receive punitive damages, saying the evidence against the ADA wasn't sufficient. …

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