Sigh, our Texas Supreme Court is at it again. In a recent decision, the Court conflated personal injury claims with sexual harassment and other froms of discrimination. See Waffle House, Inc. v. Williams. The Court found that claims based on assault and negligent supervision are preempted by the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. The TCHRA is the state version of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The TCHRA prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, national origin and other classifications. The Court found that the TCHRA provided the exclusive remedy for all conduct related to discrimination. Formerly, tort claims or personal injury claims would be in addition to, not in lieu of discrimination claims.
As the dissent points out, this means that if Joe repeatedly slams Mary up against the wall at work, then Mary can sue Joe for assault and battery. But, if Joe also gropes Mary while repeatedly slamming her against the wall, then Mary can only sue for discrimination. One major difference is that the TCHRA is limited to $300,000 in emotional damages and punitive damages. But, a claim based on assault and battery would have limited or no dollar limit. See dissent.
The $300,000 cap suffices for many claims. The $300,000 cap applies to the largest employers. It includes punitive damages and compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate a victim for emotional suffering. But, the cap is not enough for some claims. For example, would $300,000 be enough in a discrimination case also involving rape? Money never truly compensates for the worst abuses. But, $300,000 would not be enough damages for some cases. In the case of Jones v. KBR, the victim was raped repeatedly and then confined in Iraq by her employer. Would $300,000 be enough for the Jones case?
Or, if the employer has less than 100 employees, the punitive damages and compensatory damages would be capped at $50,000. Would $50,000 suffice for the worst claims involving rape or assault?
The ruling suggests judicial activism. The issue was not even addressed by the parties. The Supreme Court refers to a tangential reference by the employer before the lower court. But, the issue was not presented before the Supreme Court itself.
The TCHRA is supposed to track the federal equivalent, Title VII, but this ruling directly contradicts Title VII precedent.
And, ultimately, in this case, the jury had awarded $3.46 million in punitive damages. The trial court then converted that award into an award of $425,000 for past compensatory damages and $425,000 in punitive damages, due the cap for personal injury claims. The Texas Supreme Court once against trumps a jury decision.