A plaintiff in a sexual harassment claim may seek and recover punitive damages if she wins. Punitive damages are damages that a jury may impose to punish or for sake of example. To justify an award of punitive damages, the plaintiff must offer “clear and convincing” evidence that the defendant committed malice, oppression, or fraud in connection with the harassment. "Oppression" means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights. “Malice" means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights safety of others. A person acts with conscious disregard of the rights or safety or others when he is aware of the probable consequences of his conduct and willfully and deliberately fails to avoid those consequences. "Despicable conduct" is conduct which is so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched, or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary decent people. "Fraud" means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.
Whether punitive damages ought to be imposed is a matter left to the court’s sound discretion. In arriving at any award of punitive damages, a court should consider the following:
- The reprehensibility of the conduct of the defendants;
- The amount of punitive damages which will have a deterrent effect on the defendant in the light of defendant’s financial condition;
- That the punitive damages must bear a reasonable relation to the injury, harm, or damage actually suffered by the plaintiff.
Not only is sexual harassment illegal. The law also prohibits:
- Racial harassment
- Religious harassment
- Age-based harassment
- Harassment based on disability
- Harassment based on ethnicity or national origin
Most people are familiar with workplace sexual harassment claims. Harassment in professional, business, and educational relationships are also illegal.