What happens when an employee asserts more than one claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Can she recover the maximum for each claim, or is she limited to one recovery regardless of the number of claims?
In Black v. Pan American Laboratories, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) determined that the damage cap applies to each party, not to each claim. Title VII has caps on compensatory and punitive damages that vary depending on the size of the employer. In the Black case, the cap that applied to the employer was $200,000. After a jury trial on two sex discrimination claims and a retaliation claim under Title VII, the plaintiff was awarded $3,450,000 in back pay and compensatory and punitive damages. The court then reduced the award to $300,000 in back pay and the "capped" maximum for compensatory and punitive damages of $200,000.
Both parties appealed, and the plaintiff argued that she should have been allowed $200,000 per claim. She argued that she would not be receiving a double recovery because she had suffered from two types of discrimination: (1) discrimination that did not result in her discharge, and (2) discrimination that did result in her discharge.
The Fifth Circuit had not ruled on this issue before but noted that other circuits had found that the caps apply per party, not per claim, including the Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee), the Seventh Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin), the Tenth Circuit (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming), and the District of Columbia Circuit. Following these courts, the Fifth Circuit held that, "[f]or the purposes of Title VII's damages cap, the relevant 'unit of accounting is the litigation, not the legal theory.'"
This holding is good news for retailers because it ensures that the compensatory and punitive damages available to a plaintiff making multiple claims under Title VII is limited to the amount of Title VII's damages cap – just once.