Pollard v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

PETITIONER: Pollard
RESPONDENT: E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company
LOCATION: Florida Supreme Court

DOCKET NO.: 00-763
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 532 US 843 (2001)
ARGUED: Apr 23, 2001
DECIDED: Jun 04, 2001

ADVOCATES:
Kathleen L. Caldwell - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Matthew D. Roberts - Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting petitioner
Raymond M. Ripple - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Sharon Pollard sued her former employer, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont), alleging that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ultimately, the Federal District Court found that Pollard was subjected to co-worker sexual harassment of which her supervisors were aware. The court awarded her $300,000 in compensatory damages, the maximum permitted under the Civil Rights Act of 1991 for such damages. The court then noted that the award was insufficient to compensate Pollard. On appeal, Pollard argued that "front pay," the money awarded for lost compensation during the period between judgment and reinstatement or in lieu of reinstatement, was not an element of compensatory damages, but a replacement for the remedy of reinstatement in situations in which reinstatement would be inappropriate. Rejecting Pollard, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does "front pay" constitute an element of compensatory damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, such that it is subject to the Act's statutory cap on such damages?

Media for Pollard v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 2001 in Pollard v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 04, 2001 in Pollard v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

The opinion of the Court in No. 00-763, Pollard versus E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In this Title VII action the District Court found that Pollard was subjected to co-worker’s sexual harassment of which her supervisors were aware and that the harassment resulted in Pollard’s medical leave of absence and her eventual dismissal.

As relevant here the court awarded Pollard $300000.00 in compensatory damages, the maximum permitted under the damages cap of 42 U.S.C. 1981a(b)(3).

The court observed that the award was insufficient to compensate Pollard, but it was bound by Sixth Circuit precedent holding that front pay which is money awarded for loss compensation during the period between judgment and reinstatement or in lieu of reinstatement is subject to the damages cap.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse.

Under Section 706(g) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when an employer engages in an unlawful employment practice, the court was authorized to order remedies that included injunctions, reinstatement and back pay.

Section 706(g) closely track the language of Section 10(c) of the National Labor Relations Act under which the National Labor Relations Board consistently made back pay awards up to the date of reinstatement.

Court's finding unlawful discrimination in Title VII actions therefore awarded the same type of back pay under Section 706(g), such awards for the period after judgment are now called front pay awards.

In the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Congress expanded the available remedies to include compensatory and punitive damages, but Congress in doing this also limited these new damages under Section 1981a(b)(3).

The plain language of the Act makes clear that the newly authorized remedies were in addition to the relief authorized by Section 706(g).

Since front pay was a type of relief authorized by 706(g), it is excluded from the meaning of compensatory damages under Section 1981(a) and is not subject to the damages limitations.

Moreover there is not logical distinction between front pay awards, when there is reinstatement and those made when there is not, and because the text of 706(g) does not lend itself to any such distinction, front pay awards in lieu of reinstatement are also authorized under Section 706(g).

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.

Justice O’Connor took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.