In a case of local interest, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has ruled that a jury's decision to award punitive damages in a racial discrimination suit without awarding compensatory damages or back pay did not violate due process.
The court affirmed a $125,000 punitive damages award to each of eight black employees who sued their employer for discrimination.
"We agree with the conclusion of several of our sister circuits that a punitive damages award need not be accompanied by compensatory damages," the appeals court said.
The plaintiffs worked in the Kansas City Southern Railway diesel shop in Shreveport, La.
Their lawsuit described repeated instances of race discrimination and harassment, including a wire formed in the shape of a noose being left in plain sight, racial graffiti written on workshop walls, and employees making racially charged comments and threats.
The complaint was filed in U S District court in Shreveport alleging violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded each one $125,000 in punitive damages and $1 in nominal compensatory damages.
KCS appealed, but the Court ruled that there was ample evidence to support the original judgment.