SW Legal studies in Business

Punitive Damages without Compensatory Damages May Be Awarded

Appeals court held that where an employer allowed a racially hostile work environment to exist for years, there was no violation of due process for a jury to award plaintiffs punitive damages but no compensatory damages. The law does not require compensatory damages to exist to justify punitive damages.

Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words

Race Discrimination; Hostile Environment; Punitive Damages

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Eight African-American employees of Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCS) sued the company for subjecting them to a hostile work environment. They alleged they encountered repeated instances of racially derogatory acts in KCS’s diesel operation in Shreveport, Louisiana, including racial graffiti, a noose, racially derogatory comments and threats, spoken and written, and inferior shift assignments. The jury found that KCS created a hostile work environment and did not correct the problem. It awarded no compensatory damages, but awarded each plaintiff $125,000 in punitive damages. KCS appealed, contending such an award violated due process.


Affirmed. An independent award of punitive damages for a violation of Title VII, without compensatory damages, did not violate due process. There was evidence of multiple incidents of racially discriminatory behavior in the workplace over ten years, that supervisors knew of the discrimination, but did nothing to correct it. The employer failed to institute a meaningful policy against racial harassment.

Citation Abner v. Kansas City Southern Railroad Co., 513 F.3d 154 (5th Cir., 2008)

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