Women and Workplace Discrimination: Overcoming Barriers to Gender Equality

By Raymond F. Gregory | Go to book overview

Eighteen
Compensatory and
Punitive Damages

In determining the amount of monetary damages a victim of sex discrimination may recover, the courts apply a fundamental principle common to all employment discrimination cases: The worker who proves she has been discriminated against is entitled to be made “whole.” That is, a worker is entitled to be placed in the circumstances she would have been in if her employer had not discriminated against her. Despite the near universal acceptance of the “make whole” standard of relief, the remedies available to female workers for the discriminatory conduct of their employers fall short of that standard in two material respects: A woman may be denied full recovery of the punitive and compensatory damages awarded her by a jury, and, in certain instances, she may even be denied all damages.

Before 1991, Title VII did not specifically authorize the recovery of damages for pain and suffering, commonly referred to as “compensatory damages.” The statute also failed to provide for the recovery of punitive damages. Although the remedies provisions of Title VII were broadly stated, almost all federal courts relied on the absence in the statute of any specifically stated provisions for the recovery of either compensatory or punitive damages to deny women recovery of those damages. In sexual-harassment cases, where the primary damages suffered by the victims of the harassment nearly always are of a compensatory and punitive nature, the harassed victims were effectively left without a remedy. Workers who sued their employers for race or national origin discrimination were able to rely on statutes other than Title VII to recover compensatory and punitive damages. 1

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