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While egregious misconduct is evidence of the requisite mental state, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981a does not limit plaintiffs to that form of evidence, and the section does not require a showing of egregious or outrageous discrimination independent of an employer's state of mind. Nor does the statute's structure imply an independent role for "egregiousness" in the face of congressional silence. On the contrary, the view that § 1981a provides for punitive awards based solely on an employer's state of mind is consistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1991's, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981a, distinction between equitable and compensatory relief. Intent determines which remedies are open to a plaintiff here as well; compensatory awards are available only where the employer has engaged in intentional discrimination.
Petitioner Carole Kolstad was formerly employed by respondent professional association. She had applied unsuccessfully for a promotion. Subsequently, petitioner filed an action against the association, alleging that the decision by association officers to promote a male applicant constituted employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USCS 2000e et seq.). Petitioner further sought punitive damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (1991 Act), 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981a. The trial court refused to give a punitive damages instruction, and petitioner was awarded compensatory damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision and expressed the view that before the question of punitive damages can go to the jury in a Title VII case, the evidence must show not only intentional discrimination, but also some further egregious misconduct by the defendant. A writ of certiorari was granted.
In order to satisfy the 1991 Act’s punitive damages requirement, should the evidence show egregious misconduct by the employer?
The Court vacated the appellate court’s decision and held that an employer's conduct did not have to be egregious to satisfy the 1991 Act's punitive damages requirement. According to the Court, an employer was not vicariously liable for managerial agents' discriminatory decisions where the decisions were contrary to the employer's good-faith efforts to comply with Title VII. Employers who made good-faith efforts to prevent discrimination accomplished the objective of Title VII. Thus, the action was remanded to determine whether respondent acted with malice or reckless indifference to petitioner's Title VII rights.