Employment discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates an employee on the basis of race, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, religion, and disability.
At the federal level, anti-discrimination laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC provides specific limits (or "caps") on the amount that a plaintiff can recover for a successful employment discrimination lawsuit.
Many states do not enforce their own limits on the amount that can be recovered for employment discrimination. However, the facts of your case may limit the type and extent of recoverable damages. Further, states may limit not only the amount of recoverable damages but also the types of available remedies. Here is a review of how employment discrimination damages are handled at the state level in New York, California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas.
1. New York: Two Anti-Discrimination State Laws for a Complete Recovery
Compensatory damages are not limited under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), which prohibits work-related discrimination. While NYSHRL doesn’t provide for recovery of attorney’s fees and punitive damages, they can be recovered under New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).
2. California: No Federal-Type Limits on Damages Recovery
California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) places no limits on the amount of recoverable compensatory or punitive damages available in employment discrimination cases. Both attorneys’ fees and costs of litigating can be recovered under California law.
3. Florida: Distinguishing Recovery in Public and Private Sector Lawsuits
The anti-discrimination law of the state, the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), does not limit recovery of compensatory damages, but caps punitive damages at $100,000. However, Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Tort Law bars recovery of punitive damages from public employers. Furthermore, Florida appellate court had stated that Florida’s Sovereign Immunity Tort Law caps all damages recoverable under FRCA at $100,000 in state public sector actions – i.e., employment discrimination lawsuits against the State of Florida, its agencies, and its subdivisions. Attorney’s fees may be recovered under FCRA. But recovery of back pay may be limited to a two-year timeframe.
4. Illinois: Recovery in State Court from Employers of ALL Sizes Allowed
Historically, employment discrimination claims under the Illinois Human Rights Acts (IHRA) had to be brought before Illinois Department of Human Rights and Human Rights Commission. Such administrative, out-of-court review lacking jury’s input had a limiting impact on remedies. However, as of January 1, 2008, plaintiffs can bring their claims to state court to be heard before the jury. At the same time, IHRA doesn’t limit damages recover. Punitive damages are not limited, and are more likely to be awarded in state court, now accessible to victims of employment discrimination desiring a trial by jury. Unlike federal anti-discrimination laws, IHRA applies to employers irrespective of their size.
5. Texas: Court Limits Claims And Recoveries in Sexual Harassment Context
Just like the federal anti-discrimination law, Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) applies to employers with 15 or more employees and has analogous caps on cumulative recovery of compensatory and punitive damages. The TCHRA caps are summarized below:
- Employer size: 15 – 100 employees; recovery capped $50,000
- Employer size: 101 – 200 employees; recovery capped at $100,000
- Employer size: 201 – 500 employees; recovery capped at $200,000
- Employer size: more than 500 employees; recovery capped at $300,000
Further, the Texas Supreme Court had not been particularly plaintiff friendly, limiting plaintiffs’ ability to avoid Title 7 and/or TCHRA recovery caps by bring common law tort actions, such as negligent hiring, that lie outside of state’s statutory scheme. The Texas Supreme Court had specifically opined that a sexual harassment plaintiff cannot avoid TCHRA cap by suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a common law tort claim. From the Court’s rulings, it seems that at least in the context of work-related sexual harassment, plaintiffs would not be allowed to avoid THCRA’s caps on recovery of damages. Specifically, the Texas Supreme Court had noted that in such cases, THCRA represents an exclusive remedy against employer.
The federal and state anti-discrimination laws are complex and recovery of damages may vary from state to state, from claim to claim, and depending on facts of your case. Therefore, a qualified discrimination lawyer may help you walk through a legal labyrinths of federal, state, and common laws and claims. After reviewing the anti-discrimination statutory scheme of your state as well as nuanced facts of your situation, an employment discrimination lawyer may develop a strategy of representation aiming for the best recovery