This case presented an opportunity for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to clarify the standards for the award of future lost wages (known as “front pay”) and punitive damages in employment discrimination suits under G. L. c. 151B. NELF, on behalf of itself and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, filed an amicus brief in support of Wal-Mart, seeking, inter alia, reversal of the trial court’s decision upholding the jury’s 19-year front pay award to a skilled, at-will employee who prevailed on a claim that she was terminated due to gender discrimination, but who had already secured alternative employment as of trial, had failed to pursue an additional employment opportunity, and offered no evidence that she would be unable to secure comparable employment. NELF also argued, relying in part on Supreme Court precedent under Title VII, that the trial court properly set aside the jury’s $1 million punitive damages award. The plaintiff, having prevailed on her claim of discriminatory intent based solely on evidence that Wal-Mart’s stated grounds for termination were false, did not present any evidence of conscious discriminatory intent, which NELF argued was a requirement for punitive damages to be considered.
In its October 5, 2009, decision, the SJC affirmed the front pay award, finding that the evidence supported it and that lengthy front pay awards have been sustained under G.L. c. § 151B on similar facts. On the other hand, the SJC agreed with NELF that punitive damages in this case were unwarranted and reversed that part of the decision below. The Court provided a comprehensive list of factors to be used in the future to determine “whether a defendant’s conduct was so outrageous or egregious that punitive damages under G.L. c. 151B are warranted.”