State of Arizona v. ASARCO LLC, 2014 WL 6918577 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc)

Angela Aguilar who worked in a copper mine for approximately 11 months claimed she was sexually harassed, retaliated against, subjected to intentional infliction of emotional distress and was constructively terminated from her employment. After an eight-day trial, the jury found ASARCO liable on Aguilar’s sexual harassment claims in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act but not on her constructive termination or retaliation claims. The jury awarded Aguilar $1 in nominal damages and $868,750 in punitive damages. The district court reduced the award to $300,000 based on the statutory cap found in 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D). ASARCO argued in this appeal that the 300,000-to-1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages violated its due process rights under BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996). Although conceding that “Gore is undeniably of some relevance in this context,” the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit distinguished Gore on the ground that Aguilar (unlike the plaintiff in Gore) had “asserted a claim under a statute, Title VII, which includes a carefully crafted provision, § 1981, that imposes a cap on punitive damages” and, therefore, the due process issues raised in Gore do not apply to employment discrimination claims brought under Title VII. The Court also noted that the district court had instructed the jury that it could not award more than $1 in nominal damages to Aguilar. Finally, the Court found no error in the district court’s admission of evidence of sexually explicit graffiti found in the bathrooms that was similar to the graffiti directed at Aguilar and affirmed an award to Aguilar of $350,902.75 in attorney’s fees and costs.