A new bill in Congress would uncap damages in federal discrimination lawsuits

noun-breaking-the-glass-ceiling-759231-1024x1024Occasionally, I post about MONSTER discrimination jury verdicts, some in the seven and eight figures. I do it for shock value and, often, the clicks. (Guilty as charged.)

But posts about the subsequent remittitur, where a federal judge slashes the compensatory or punitive damages award to $300,000 or less, don’t get nearly as many clicks.

Why would a federal judge do this?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act limit the combined amount of compensatory (think: pain and suffering) and punitive damages (think: malice) an individual may be awarded. It’s all based on the size of the employer:

  • For employers with 15-100 employees, the limit is $50,000.
  • For employers with 101-200 employees, the limit is $100,000.
  • For employers with 201-500 employees, the limit is $200,000.
  • For employers with more than 500 employees, the limit is $300,000.

In cases involving intentional age discrimination, victims cannot recover compensatory or punitive damages. Although, they can recover liquidated damages.

But all this may change if a new bill in Congress called the Equal Remedies Act of 2024 becomes law. The legislation would eliminate damage caps under Title VII, ADA, and PWFA and amend the Age Discrimination in Employment Act so that employees who experience age discrimination can access the same remedies available to those who experience other forms of discrimination.

Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the legislation yesterday.

“For too long, employers responsible for discrimination have been able to avoid fully compensating workers they harmed,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “It is unacceptable that arbitrary caps on awards for discrimination set three decades ago are preventing workers from receiving the full compensation they deserve. Discrimination can inflict long-lasting damage on workers, and it must not be tolerated.”

For many of you, it may not matter. Many states and localities allow the award of compensatory and punitive damages without any statutory caps. Even under federal law, Section 1981, which prohibits race discrimination, has no damages cap and no administrative exhaustion requirement (i.e., plaintiffs don’t need to go to the EEOC first).

Win or lose, these cases can be hecka expensive. I’m just talking about what companies have to pay their own lawyers to defend the lawsuit. (If you lose the case, you’ll also have to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.)

But will the Equal Remedies Act of 2024 pass?

Not a chance (think: Dallas Cowboys winning the Super Bowl). The Republicans control the House and likely won’t support the bill.

And, once again, I’m guilty as charged.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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