The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest federal court in New York, held in Chauca v. Abraham that an employee may recover punitive damages against an employer under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) by showing merely that the employer acted with “with willful or wanton negligence” in discriminating against the employee. Conversely, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”) – the federal law that protects against employment discrimination – sets a much higher bar for recovery of punitive damages. Specifically, Title VII requires that employees prove that an employer acted “with malice or with reckless indifference” to the employee’s rights. As their name suggests, punitive damages are designed to punish employers for discriminating against employees and deter them from committing future acts of discrimination.
The Second Circuit’s decision in Chauca confirms for New York federal courts what was already well settled in the State court context: that New York City employees need not meet as high a standard as employees elsewhere to recover punitive damages. Accordingly, employees within New York City should be aware that, under now well-settled City law, they are entitled to greater potential recovery to remedy acts of discrimination committed against them.
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About Patrick J. Collopy
Patrick J. Collopy is an Associate in Faruqi & Faruqi’s New York office and focuses his practice on employment law and wage and hour class action litigation.