- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

The Supreme Court yesterday rejected 8-0 a $300,000 cap on civil rights lawsuits.
The sexual harassment decision could raise the stakes in all employment-discrimination cases where companies are liable for violations by the victims fellow workers. Such cases involve discrimination on the basis of race, sex or age.
The job discrimination case — involving sexual hostility toward Sharon B. Pollard at an E.I. du Pont de Nemours chemical plant in Tennessee — was sent back to a trial judge who called the allowable $300,000 compensatory award "insufficient to compensate plaintiff," who estimated she lost $800,000 in future earnings. Businesses had wanted a bar on future pay in such awards.
The courts opinion was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which initially investigates such complaints. Justice Sandra Day OConnor, who owns DuPont stock, took no part in the case.
In other action yesterday, the court:
* Told the Justice Department to answer by July 4 the accusation by Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols that FBI agents deliberately withheld evidence affecting him and Timothy J. McVeigh. The Justice Department vigorously denies the charge. Nichols wants the justices to reconsider their earlier refusal to hear his appeal for a new trial.
* Decided 6-3 that the Texas jury that resentenced retarded rape-murderer Johnny Paul Penry after his 1989 appeal was improperly instructed, and they overturned his death sentence a second time.
* Refused to hear claims by Hampton University basketball coach Patricia Bibbs that Lubbock, Texas, police arrested Mrs. Bibbs, her husband and an assistant coach in a Wal-Mart parking lot solely because they are black. Lower courts ruled the officers had immunity from being sued for the 1998 arrest involving a search for a lost or stolen purse.
* Declined to intervene in a lawsuit by coal companies seeking to recover back payments for a tax that finances the Black Lung Disability Fund.
The companies seek reimbursement for six years of payments on exported coal, but the government claims they may file for only three years worth of payments because the Supreme Court ruled in 1996 against imposing federal taxes on export sales.
The decision in the job discrimination case is a victory for workers rights groups, which argued the cap is arbitrary and would benefit businesses at the expense of some victims of harassment and other mistreatment.
Until yesterdays ruling, successful litigants were limited to lost back pay, attorneys fees and up to $300,000 for future wages — paid in lieu of reinstatement when no openings were available or hostility remained too excessive for the worker to return.
The court found that such "front pay," as it is called in courts, is not part of the compensatory damages that Congress limited to $300,000. The business community argued that front-pay awards may be arbitrary and out of proportion to actual damages.
Mrs. Pollard, the former chemical plant worker, claimed harassment began in 1987 when a male worker opened a Bible on her desk to the passage that reads, "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man. She must be silent."
Later, she said, male colleagues shunned her and sabotaged her work after she was chosen to address girls visiting the plant for "Take Your Daughters to Work Day" in 1994. They sounded false alarms on the shop floor when she was in charge.

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