Pastor, Church & Law

The Civil Rights Act of 1991

§ 08.12.09

Key Point 8-12.09. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 permits victims of discrimination under various federal civil rights laws to sue their employer for money damages up to specified limits based on the size of the employer.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 allows, with limited exceptions, compensatory and punitive damages for intentional employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. However, the Act limits the amount of compensatory and punitive damages that are available to discrimination victims. The sum of punitive damages and compensatory damages cannot exceed the following amounts, per person: $50,000 for employers with 15-100 employees; $100,000 for employers with 101-200 employees; $200,000 for employers with 201-500 employees; $300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees. “Frontpay” (compensation for future services) is excluded from the definition of compensatory damages and is not included in the caps.

Case studies

  • A denominational agency has 75 employees, and engages in the national distribution of religious literature to affiliated churches. A female sues the agency as a result of alleged intentional sex discrimination in employment. The agency clearly is subject to Title VII, and therefore is subject to “compensatory and punitive damages” not to exceed $50,000 if the woman can prove intentional sex discrimination.
  • A church refuses to hire an applicant for employment because she is not a member of the same faith. The applicant cannot sue for monetary damages under Title VII since churches are not subject to the prohibition of religious discrimination in employment even if they are covered by Title VII.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides that if an employer is charged with discrimination against a disabled person in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, no monetary damages will be available if the employer can demonstrate that it exercised good faith efforts (in consultation with the disabled person) to reasonably accommodate the disabled person.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 also authorizes the award of attorneys’ fees to prevailing parties.

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