October 21, 2010

"The New Calculus of Punitive Damages for Employment Discrimination Cases"

Here's a new law review article of interest to those dealing with punitive damages in employment cases, authored by Professor Sandra Sperino of Temple University School of Law. I can't find a hyperlinkable version, but the Westlaw cite is 62 OKLR 701.  The abstract: 

To determine whether a punitive damages award is constitutionally excessive, courts are required, among other things, to consider the ratio of compensatory to punitive damages. No longer is the total sum of remedies the only relevant calculation in determining whether an award is excessive. The numbers the judge decides to use in the ratio comparison also become important, in many cases determining whether excessiveness review is even warranted.
Owing in part to the complexities of the employment discrimination remedies regime, courts make numerous errors when undertaking the required comparison in the employment discrimination context. When conducting the excessiveness calculus, some judges fail to value back pay and front pay, resulting in an exaggeration of the difference between the harm to the plaintiff and the awarded punitive damages. Likewise, judges often ignore the value of nonmonetary equitable relief awarded to the plaintiff. Additionally, little consideration has yet been given to how the division of damages across legal theories or causes of action affects the excessiveness inquiry.
While some of these problems result from courts' failures to properly reconcile the specialized remedies regime of Title VII with the excessiveness inquiry, others point to more fundamental issues with the constitutional inquiry itself. Hinging that inquiry on numbers that can easily be manipulated leads to serious questions regarding whether the inquiry actually and appropriately tests excessiveness. This article describes the analytic red herrings that may confuse courts conducting an excessiveness review, uses these missteps to illustrate fundamental flaws with excessiveness review, and suggests ways to minimize mistakes.