Punitive Damages, Due Process, and Employment Discrimination

47 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2011 Last revised: 3 Mar 2015

See all articles by Joseph Seiner

Joseph Seiner

University of South Carolina School of Law

Date Written: April 12, 2011


The Supreme Court has failed to provide any substantive guidance on when punitive damages are appropriate in employment discrimination cases since it issued its seminal decision in Kolstad v. American Dental Ass’n over twelve years ago. The Court has recently expanded its punitive damages jurisprudence in the high-profile decisions of Philip Morris USA v. Williams and Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker. While these cases dramatically altered the way exemplary relief is analyzed in civil cases, the extent to which these decisions apply in the workplace context remains unclear. Surprisingly, there has been almost no academic literature to date explaining how Philip Morris and Exxon impact punitive damages claims brought by employment discrimination plaintiffs. This Article seeks to fill that substantial void in the scholarship, looking specifically at the potential due process implications.

Navigating the recent Supreme Court cases, this Article proposes a uniform analytical framework for analyzing punitive damages in cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The model proposed in this Article provides a blueprint for courts and litigants when considering whether punitive relief is appropriate in an employment discrimination case. If adopted, the model set forth in this Article would resolve much of the uncertainty that currently exists in the lower courts over how to apply the remedial provisions of Title VII — as interpreted through the confusing Kolstad decision — to employment discrimination claims. This Article explains how this proposed framework would bring much more efficiency to the judicial process and help define the future of workplace punitive damages.

Keywords: Labor and employment, punitive damages, due process, employment discrimination, Exxon, Philip Morris

Suggested Citation

Seiner, Joseph A., Punitive Damages, Due Process, and Employment Discrimination (April 12, 2011). 57 Iowa Law Review 473 (2012), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1807930

Joseph A. Seiner (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina School of Law ( email )

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