The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits employment discrimination based on, among other things, an employee’s gender. The law has plainly provided for punitive damages against employers who violate the law. Punitive damages are generally available in cases as a way to dissuade others from engaging in similar unlawful conduct and to punish the wrongdoer. On November 20, 2017, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest state court, settled the standard which courts should apply in deciding whether punitive damages should be allowed in a discrimination case.
Employment Discrimination Lawsuit in Federal Court
In Chauca v. Abraham, the employee was a physical therapy aide. She sued her employer for sex and pregnancy discrimination, under the federal law Title VII, under the New York State Human Rights Law, and under the New York City Human Rights Law. At trial, the employee’s lawyer asked the judge to instruct the jury to consider whether punitive damages were appropriate under the New York City Human Rights Law. The court applied Title VII’s punitive damages standard which requires the employee to show malice, reckless indifference, or an intent to violate the law. The court determined that the employee did not show any evidence of intent so the judge refused to instruct the jury to consider imposing punitive damages.