Case Challenges Limits On Compensatory Damages

By Michael A. Verespej In a case that could have a significant financial impact on manufacturers, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on whether the current $300,000 limit on compensatory damages in workplace lawsuits can be increased by the amount of money an employee would have earned -- commonly referred to as front pay -- had he or she continued to work for the same company. Lower courts have rejected that notion, but the Supreme Court Jan. 8 said it will hear arguments in April in an on-the-job harassment case involving former Du Pont & Co. employee Sharon Pollard. Pollard -- who was awarded more than $100,000 in back pay and the maximum $300,000 in compensatory damages -- took a six-month medical leave of absence from her job for psychological reasons related to the harassment. She then was fired after she declined to return to work because Du Pont said it could not guarantee that she would not be working the same shift as the male co-workers who had harassed her. Her attorneys have additionally asked for some $800,000 in front pay -- the amount of money her attorneys claim that Pollard, who had worked for Du Pont for 20 years, would have earned had she returned to her previous job. The high court's ruling -- expected in June -- will apply to all workplace employment lawsuits and could radically alter the financial impact of such suits if it should rule that front pay is not subject to the $300,000 cap set by Congress when it amended the Civil Rights Act in 1991.

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