State of Arizona v. ASARCO

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: 12-10-2014
  • Case #: 11-17484
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: En Banc: Circuit Judge Thomas for the Court; Chief Judge Thomas; Circuit Judges Reinhardt, Kozinski, Silverman, Gould, Berzon, Clifton, N. Smith, Murguia, Christen, and Nguyen
  • Full Text Opinion

An award of $300,000 in a Title VII sexual harassment case is not excessive or in violation of due process when the plaintiff was only awarded nominal damages and no compensatory damages.

Angela Aguilar was employed by ASARCO at the Mission Mine in Arizona. Aguilar brought suit against ASARCO under Title VII for sexual harassment. A jury awarded her no compensatory damages, $1 in nominal damages, and over $800,000 in punitive damages. The district court reduced the punitive damages to $300,000 in compliance with the statutory cap found in 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b). ASARCO appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and a three-judge panel further reduced the punitive damages to $125,000. ASARCO again appealed, and the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reviewed the judgment for whether the punitive damages award violated due process. The panel found that the common law analysis of damages found in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, did not apply to this case because the damages were guided by statutory limits. ASARCO had notice found in § 1981 of what conduct might make them liable for up to $300,000 in punitive damages. Also, the nominal damages were limited to $1 and are not intended to measure the severity of ASARCO’s conduct. Therefore, a rule based on a ratio would not be appropriate. The panel did not find the $300,000 award to be excessive, and affirmed the district court’s decision. AFFIRMED.

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