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Court Limits Damage Conditions in Bias Cases

May 09, 1998|Associated Press

A sharply divided U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Washington narrowed the conditions under which employers may be forced to pay punitive damages to victims of gender discrimination. The judges ruled that such damages, which are intended to punish the employer, can be assessed only in cases of "particularly egregious violations" of the civil rights law. The employer must exhibit "reckless indifference" to the worker's rights, the court said in its 6-5 decision. In the case before the court, Carole Kolstad sued the American Dental Assn. after losing a promotion to a male with less experience. The jury had awarded her $52,718--the difference between what she earned during the 2 1/2 years the case was in the courts and what she would have earned if promoted. But she argued on appeal that the trial judge was wrong in keeping the jurors from considering punitive damages, which could have ranged from $50,000 to $300,000. There was evidence to indicate that the man who got the promotion was pre-selected, the appeals court said. But "pre-selection by itself is neither unusual nor illegal, much less egregiously wrongful," the court ruled. Kolstad's attorney said an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely.

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