December 20, 2016

Are punitive damages available under the ADEA?

The EEOC believes that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act authorizes punitive damages.  (See Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues.)  Courts often find the EEOC's interpretations of federal employment laws persuasive.  But in this case, the Fifth Circuit was not persuaded.

The Fifth Circuit issued an opinion last week reaffirming its view that the ADEA does not authorize punitive damages.  (Vaughn v. Anderson Regional Medical Center.)

Plaintiff's counsel in that case told Bloomberg BNA that the Fifth Circuit stands alone in holding that punitive damages are unavailable under the ADEA.  Not so, according to the author of an ADEA treatise.  Howard Eglit, who writes the treatise Age Discrimination, says numerous courts have addressed whether the ADEA authorizes punitive damages, and "the response has been unanimously in the negative."  (2 Age Discrimination § 8:110 (2d ed.).)

The plaintiff's counsel in Vaughn plans to seek Supreme Court review to resolve the split of authority that he says the Fifth Circuit has created, but Eglit's treatise suggests it will be an uphill battle to show that such a split even exists.