Emotional Distress Damages in California Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The United States Supreme Court is set to address whether emotional distress damages are available to those who prove disability discrimination under federal law. Disability discrimination can impact a person and their family in a myriad of ways. While a financial loss is the most apparent, emotional distress can have a life-changing impact on a person’s livelihood. California state and federal law prohibit discrimination based on a person’s disability in employment, government programs, private and non-profit businesses, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. Those who experience discrimination in these settings can hold the violating party liable for their damages. However, plaintiffs often encounter challenges in establishing emotional distress damages.

Emotional distress damages include a variety of harms, including:

  • Psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression;
  • Insomnia;
  • Loss of enjoyment of life;
  • Mental anguish;
  • Reputational harm; and
  • Relationship strains.

Generally, plaintiffs can establish emotional distress by presenting testimony from themselves, friends, family, and/or a doctor or mental health professional. Despite the growing acceptance and knowledge of the impact of emotional distress, some courts are reluctant to award these damages. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision will be consequential to many people.

The case stems from a case involving a deaf and visually impaired woman who sought physical therapy for back pain. Upon recommendation from her doctor, she contacted the clinic (defendant) and requested a sign-language interpreter. However, the clinic declined her request and offered treatment through gestures, lip-reading, and notes. The woman obtained treatment at a different facility and filed a lawsuit against the clinic. She argued that the clinic engaged in unlawful disability discrimination, resulting in emotional trauma and humiliation.

The primary issue in the case is whether compensatory damages under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and incorporated statutes include compensation for emotional distress. The relevant inquiry focuses on whether medical facilities who agreed to accept funds from the federal government, such as the defendant, were on notice that they could be liable for emotional distress damages. The plaintiff argues that emotional distress damages are appropriate because, in many cases, they are the only kind of claim a discrimination victim can allege because unfair and prejudicial treatment does not always result in financial injury. Moreover, civil rights groups argue that a broad win for the defendant could weaken protections against intentional discrimination.

Have You Experienced Discrimination Based on a Disability?

If you or someone you love has experienced employment discrimination, contact The Nourmand Law Firm for assistance. The San Bernandino employment discrimination lawyers at our office have extensive experience successfully resolving cases on behalf of California workers. Our firm understands the devastating financial, emotional, and psychological impact that discrimination can have on people and their families. As such, we take every case seriously and ensure that we provide clients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their claims. We handle California employment law, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and other employee claims. Contact our office at 800-700-9243 to discuss your rights and remedies with an experienced California lawyer.

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