Hulk Hogan v. Two Alleged Age Discrimination Victims

A review of the New York Times today provides a stark demonstration of the arbitrary way that society assesses damage to individuals.

There is a front page story about a Florida jury verdict ordering Gawker.com to pay wrestler Hulk Hogan $115 million in damages for publishing a grainy security video depicting Hogan having sex with a friend’s partner. Of that amount, $55 million was for economic harm and $50 million was for emotional distress. (Hogan subsequently was awarded an additional $25 million in punitive damages.)

Another story, featured in the business section, chronicles the demoralizing travails of Julianne Taaffe, 60, and Kathryn Moon, 65, who taught English as a second language (ESL) at Ohio State University for decades until they were forced to retire as a result of an alleged campaign of illegal age discrimination and harassment.

The maximum damage award permitted under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)  is a total of two-times the amount of monetary damage suffered by the plaintiffs.  The ADEA does not permit plaintiffs to recover damages for emotional distress or punitive damages,  though these damages are permitted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, color and national origin. So if Taaffe and Moon’s case ever gets to a jury  the most they could recover is whatever salary and benefits they lost, possibly doubled.

And while the evidence against OSU is what some would call overwhelming, it is far from certain that Taaffe and Moon’s lawsuit ever will reach a jury.  Taaffe and Moon were forced to sue five Ohio State University (OSU) officials individually rather than the university because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that  the concept of  sovereign immunity prevents an award of monetary damages in federal lawsuits against state agencies (including universities).   OSU has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the ADEA does not permit plaintiffs to sue individual government employees.

Taaffe and Moon claim in the lawsuit that OSU systematically drove out older teachers in the university’s English as a Second Language Program. [Read more…]