$300,000 punitive damages award to sexual harassment victim

Court upholds $300,000 punitive damages award to sexual harassment victim under Title VII.

Angela Aguilar was employed by Asarco, LLC at the Mission Mine complex near Tucson, Arizona from December 2005 through November 2006. The Mission Mine includes a copper mine from which copper ore is extracted and a mill facility in which the ore is crushed, filtered, and refined. Ms. Aguilar started as a mill laborer and became a car loader operator in March 2006. She then became a filter operator in the filter plant and later, a rod and ball mill person. Angela Aguilar claimed that during her time at Asarco, she was subjected to sexual harassment, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and was ultimately forced to resign from her employment. She filed a lawsuit against Asarco, alleging harassment, constructive termination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

After the conclusion of an eight-day trial, the jury found Asarco liable on Aguilar’s sexual harassment claims. Although Angela Aguilar was awarded only $1 in actual damages, she was awarded the maximum of $300,000 in punitive damages against Asarco. In addition, the Court awarded Angela Aguilar $350,902.75 in attorneys’ fees and costs. These awards were later determined to be appropriate by the Federal Court of Appeals.

In upholding theses amounts, the Court of Appeals concluded that an award of $300,000 in punitive damages — the maximum amount permitted under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a — comports with due process even though the jury only awarded $1 in actual damages.