On June 21, 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court held its ground by refusing to permit recovery of punitive damages by employees suing for discrimination, harassment and retaliation under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
This leaves Iowa plaintiffs the choice of seeking punitive damages under Title VII, but in federal court, or remaining in state court under an Iowa Code Chapter 216 claim without the ability to recover punitive damages.
In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Mark Cady, the Iowa Supreme Court said that its earlier ruling on this issue should remain unchanged and affirmed. He wrote:
Overall, we think our legislature would be quite surprised to learn if we decided to reverse course and take a different position under the guise of statutory interpretation. We did our job twenty-seven years ago and will leave it for the legislature to take any different approach. The specific arguments presented by the plaintiffs are not so powerful or obvious that they plainly undermine our prior line of cases. Additionally, we recognize our legislature has demonstrated that it knows how to permit punitive damages for specific civil rights actions when it wishes to do so.
Absent legislative action by the Iowa General Assembly, this issue appears resolved in favor of limiting employment plaintiffs under the Iowa Civil Rights Act to recovery of "actual damages" as now held again as not including punitive damages.
Today's decision is in the cases of Ackelson v. Manley Toy Direct, LLC, et al. and Drake, et al. v. Manley Toy Direct, LLC, et al., No. 12-0442, which were decided on interlocutory appeals granted to resolve this issue prior to trial in those actions.