This past week, the Equal Remedies Act of 2024 was introduced by Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). The Act is an effort to end injustice. 

In 1991, lawmakers put in place caps on the damages employees can be awarded after being the victims of unlawful discrimination and harassment in the workplace.  Lawmakers decided that no matter how blatant the discrimination, how egregious the harassment, how unresponsive the employer might be when complaints are made, an employee’s recovery for compensatory and punitive damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act would be severely limited. Today, over 30 years later, those arbitrary caps still apply. 

Lawmakers took power away from jurors and decided: if an employer has 100 or fewer employees, a plaintiff’s recovery for compensatory and punitive damages is limited to $50,000; if an employer has between 101 and 200 employees, a plaintiff’s recovery for those damages is limited to $100,000; if the employer has between 201 and 500 employees, the recovery is limited to $200,000; and for all employers with more than 500 employees (no matter how large), the recovery is limited to $300,000. This means that if a jury hears evidence in a case and thinks that the injuries and emotional distress experienced by the employee so severe, and the employer’s disregard for the law so appalling, to warrant a $500,000 or $1,000,000 verdict for compensatory or punitive damages, that award will be cut down. At most the employee could be awarded $300,000 for these damages, but worse yet it could be cut down to $50,000. This is regardless of how the jury viewed and valued the evidence in the case.

Some may argue that the caps prevent excessive financial burden on defendants. They may argue that caps maintain a balance between providing relief for plaintiffs and avoiding bankrupting employers found liable for discrimination. However, the truth is damages caps are aimed at protecting big business at the cost of the employees. They hinder justice and do nothing to deter unlawful discrimination. The law is currently written for the benefit of big business, even when big business fails to care about the employees that make them a success.

Under Title VII, a smart and capable woman could be sexually harassed and humiliated day in and day out, she could make repeated complaints to managers and owners that are completely ignored, and these limits apply. An employee could be mocked for their religion or demoted or terminated because of their sexual orientation, and these limits would apply.  A dedicated, 30-year employee could suddenly find they have a disabling condition requiring accommodations, which results in name calling and refusals by upper management to provide wholly reasonable accommodations in order to force this long-term employee out, still these limits would apply. Even if a plaintiff is able to prove their severe emotional distress, an employer’s failure to address complaints, or an employer’s pattern of allowing these types of unlawful harassment and discrimination to persist in the workplace, these limits apply.  

Discrimination suits serve as a crucial mechanism for justice. Yet, caps on damages undermine justice for the victims of unlawful discrimination and harassment. Limiting damages arbitrarily trivializes the harm caused by employers that deliberately and maliciously fail to follow the law.  Caps on damages allow for a legal system that fails to address systemic issues of unlawful discrimination and perpetuates inequality in the workplace. 

The Equal Remedies Act of 2024 is proposed to eliminate these arbitrary damages and amend the Age Discrimination in Employment Act so that the victims of age discrimination have access to the same damages as victims of other forms of discrimination.  The Act will give jurors the power to decide the value of the damages sustained by the victims of unlawful discrimination when they hear the evidence in court. 

Reach out to your senators and representatives and let them know how important this legislation is to you, the everyday hard working people that might be the victims of discrimination.  You could be a woman in a male dominated profession.  You could be someone prevented from exercising your religion. You could be an employee told not to bring your same-sex spouse to the company event. You could be an older employee that has dedicated 30 years to a company and now management thinks you’re too old to learn new things.  

If you have been the victim of unlawful discrimination or harassment, contact us. We have attorneys available for consultation to hear your story, advise you on the law and your rights, and where the law does provide protection, give you a plan of action. 

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Photo of Kalandra N. Wheeler Kalandra N. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler brings.

1.Why did you start practicing labor and employment law?

I wanted to be able to help people that otherwise might not find help. Labor and employment laws affect most of society.  And – whether our results help one or many – our work and efforts as employment lawyers touch people in a real way in their every day lives.

2. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Thurgood Marshall.

3. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client. Good facts and evidence are definitely important. But good clients are a lawyers’ most valuable asset.  A good client: (1) is invested in their case; (2) works or worked hard for their employer; (3) can tell their story clearly and concisely; and (4) is someone that a jury will find sympathetic and relatable.

4. If you could write a new law, what would it do?

The Texas Workplace Anti-Bullying law.  I hear the stories, the ones told by employees looking for help. And in far too many of those stories the law offers no solution.  Every employee that goes to work and works hard to do the job they are hired to perform should be able to do so without abuse, harassment, and bullying. There is no justification for bullying, not in our schools, and not in our workplaces.

5. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

For a year before law school, I worked as a lube tech for Jiffy Lube.  I spent hot summer days, working on hot cars, changing oil or flushing transmissions or radiators.  I never had a customer come back with a complaint.

6. How do you market yourself differently than others?

I tell clients what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Before a client begins down any path toward resolving an employment dispute, they need thoughtful, honest advice. I am a believer in justice and everyday people deserve competent representation in an arena that is difficult for non-lawyers to navigate.

7. What do you do when you’re not practicing law?

I spend time with family and friends.  I read true crime books.  I sew and draw.

8. How would you describe the color yellow to someone who could not see?

It’s not the intense heat of the sun during the month of August, but instead the softness of the sun on your skin just as the seasons change from Summer to Fall.  It’s warm. And soft to the touch.  It’s fresh squeezed lemonade with a hint of sugar.  Slightly cool, inviting, and happy.

9. What’s your favorite legal TV show?

Law & Order: SVU

10. If you could argue any case in history, what would it be?

The Karen Silkwood case. But really, I think that would be more about arguing and trying a case alongside Gerry Spence for the learning experience.

Kalandra N. Wheeler is a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C.  She graduated from The University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Ms. Wheeler went on and received her law degree from The University of Arkansas.