Congress declared the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 a victory for women and civil rights advocates. After all, before the Civil Rights Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white women could not recover damages for intentional sex discrimination. Victims of sex discrimination were limited only to equitable relief such as back pay, reinstatement, and injunctive relief. So, Congress said, the Civil Rights Act was a victory because white women who sued under Title VII could finally recover damages. But the "victory" was only partial. The Civil Rights Act capped a victim's recovery to a maximum of $300,000 in combined compensatory and punitive damages, a stark contrast to the unlimited compensatory and punitive damages available to black women who sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Congress said that capped damages was the best remedy they could provide under the circumstances. It was a compromise necessary to secure passage of the bill. The time for compromise has long since passed, if it ever existed, yet we continue to accept Title VII's codified version of injustice.
Zehrt, Lynn Ridgeway
"Twenty Years of Compromise: How the Caps on Damages in the Civil Rights Act of 1991 Codified Sex Discrimination,"
Yale Journal of Law & Feminism:
2, Article 2.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlf/vol25/iss2/2