Saturday, June 28, 2003

Fourth Circuit strikes punitive damages in Title VII case

In Bryant v. Aiken Regional Medical Centers, Inc., the Fourth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Wilkinson, joined by Judges Niemeyer and King, struck the award of punitive damages in the plaintiff's Title VII retaliation and racial discrimination claims, while affirming the verdict on liability and compensatory damages.

On compensatory damages, the defendant argued, consistent with the Price v. City of Charlotte case, that the award of $50,000 for plaintiff's uncorroborated emotional distress claim was excessive. This leads me to conclude mainly that the judges did not think that $50,000 was very much money under the circumstances of the case. I think that the Price v. City of Charlotte opinion has to be part of the defendant's Rule 50 motion during and after trial in every case where the plaintiff does not present expert medical testimony in support of his or her emotional distress claim, particularly if the jury awards more than $25,000 (but maybe now the bar has been raised somewhat).

On punitive damages, the Court applied the Supreme Court's Kolstad case. Brian Peterson has this excellent post outlining the relevant factors of the Court's punitive damages analysis.

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