Kolstad v. American Dental Assn., 527 U.S. 526 (1999)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit

No. 98-208. Argued March 1, 1999—Decided June 22, 1999

Petitioner sued respondent under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

(Title VII), asserting that respondent's decision to promote Tom Span-gler over her was a proscribed act of gender discrimination. Petitioner alleged, and introduced testimony to prove, that, among other things, the entire selection process was a sham, the stated reasons of respond-ent's executive director for selecting Spangler were pretext, and Span-gler had been chosen before the formal selection process began. The District Court denied petitioner's request for a jury instruction on punitive damages, which are authorized by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (1991 Act) for Title VII cases in which the employee "demonstrates" that the employer has engaged in intentional discrimination and has done so "with malice or with reckless indifference to [the employee's] federally protected rights." 42 U. S. C. 1981a(b)(1). In affirming that denial, the en banc Court of Appeals concluded that, before the jury can be instructed on punitive damages, the evidence must demonstrate that the defendant has engaged in some "egregious" misconduct, and that petitioner had failed to make the requisite showing in this case.


1. An employer's conduct need not be independently "egregious" to satisfy 1981a's requirements for a punitive damages award, although evidence of egregious behavior may provide a valuable means by which an employee can show the "malice" or "reckless indifference" needed to qualify for such an award. The 1991 Act provided for compensatory and punitive damages in addition to the backpay and other equitable relief to which prevailing Title VII plaintiffs had previously been limited. Section 1981a's two-tiered structure—it limits compensatory and punitive awards to cases of "intentional discrimination," 1981a(a)(1), and further qualifies the availability of punitive awards to instances of "malice" or "reckless indifference"—suggests a congressional intent to impose two standards of liability, one for establishing a right to compensatory damages and another, higher standard that a plaintiff must satisfy to qualify for a punitive award. The terms "malice" and "reckless indifference" ultimately focus on the actor's state of mind, however, and 1981a does not require a showing of egregious or outrageous discrimination independent of the employer's state of mind. Nor does the stat-

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