Arizona v. ASARCO

Punitive damages are considered to be excessively imposed if exceeding 125,000 times any and all other damages awarded.

In this case, a female employee filed claims against an employer for multiple allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation, and constructive discharge, to which the jury awarded such employee $1 in nominal damages and approximately $868,750 in punitive damages. The federal court, in determining that such punitive damages were excessive, reduced the amount of punitive damages awarded to $300,000.

The Court of Appeals

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals applied a three part test in determining whether such punitive damages were excessively granted in favor of employee, including specifically evaluating the reprehensibility of the employer conduct’s behavior, the ratio to actual harm imposed upon the plaintiff; and the civil or criminal penalties that could be imposed for comparable misconduct. In applying such factors to the case at issue, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that with respect to the reprehensibility prong, that the employee faced a significant amount of harassment, on almost a daily basis, which included a reasonable concern for her safety and welfare. Additionally the Court found specific instances of sexual harassment that involved intentional malice, recklessness, and an employment environment that was beyond reprehensible. In applying the ratio prong, the Court similarly found that given the nominal damages was only $1 and the punitive damages awarded was $300,000, that the ratio itself was essentially 300,000 to 1. The Court found that the highest ratio that had ever been awarded in such a case was 125,000 to 1, and therefore, the ratio in this particular case established that the punitive award was excessive. Last, the Court recognized that punitive damages to be awarded is consistent with both civil and criminal penalties, and therefore, recognition that punitive damages in the context of sexual employment discrimination cases are proper.

The significance of this case, is that it provides a baseline by which individual plaintiffs are able to gauge the threshold amounts of damages that may be appropriately awarded in an sexual employment discrimination case. Additionally, the case provides the specific legal test by which parties may evaluate the excessiveness, if any, of punitive damages based claims, recognizing that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized herein, that punitive damages are appropriate in sexual discrimination based cases.

Employment based claims involving a large employer requires a law firm that is experienced, competent, and knowledgeable concerning the complexities of employment sexual discrimination claims. If you have any employment-related dispute and are considering suing your employer for sexual discriminatory conduct contact the Orange County Employment Lawyers at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

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