Proposed Law Makes It Easier to Settle Discrimination Lawsuits

While no one wants to be forced into a costly court battle, too many have no choice and  passage of the bipartisan Civil Rights Tax Relief Act could make it easier for everyone involved in employment discrimination cases.  [companion version

…An employee who complains of employment discrimination often has to wait a few years before the case is heard. In the meantime, her damages have piled up. If the employee obtains a settlement or an award at trial, it often includes (1) damages to compensate for several years of unpaid or underpaid compensation, and (2) non-economic damages, such as emotional distress. Once the money is paid, the employee is taxed on the lump sum as though it were all earned as wages in a single year. The tax bite is hefty. – [Mary T. Keating, Maryland Employment Law Developments, full article below.]

Today I found an article by Mary T. Keating that clearly explains the bipartisan Civil Rights Tax Relief Act because, as she told me on the phone today, “I think it’s really, really important. I see a lot of people whose lives have been turned upside down.”  The legislation would help lower the financial burden on targets of discrimination.  According to the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), “The reintroduction of the CRTRA in both the House and the Senate is an excellent development and a great opportunity for Congress to level the playing field for employment plaintiffs who have to deal with illegal discrimination and paying higher taxes on their settlements or awards.”

To help Keating get the word out I’m posting her article with permission here:

Congress to Consider Civil Rights Tax Relief

Every candidate talks about taxes, and how the tax code is full of loopholes. One area of tax unfairness involves taxation of employment discrimination damages. An employee who complains of employment discrimination often has to wait a few years before the case is heard. In the meantime, her damages have piled up. If the employee obtains a settlement or an award at trial, it often includes (1) damages to compensate for several years of unpaid or underpaid compensation, and (2) non-economic damages, such as emotional distress. Once the money is paid, the employee is taxed on the lump sum as though it were all earned as wages in a single year. The tax bite is hefty.

The Civil Rights Tax Relief Act, introduced last week, is designed to make the tax treatment fairer in two ways. One would treat emotional and physical injuries caused by the discrimination as not taxable. This is how personal injury cases treat monetary compensation for pain and suffering. There is no logical reason why money for an auto accident should be tax free while money for discrimination should be taxed.

The second prong would let the employee use income averaging to stretch out the payments that are intended to make up for lost compensation. The employee would pay tax on the backpay and front pay, but all at the tax rate that would apply if the income were apportioned by year. In other words, the employee is not immediately sent to the top tax bracket for the one year in which he received the payment meant to compensate for seven years of discrimination.

Interestingly, the bill enjoys the support of both employee advocates and business groups. Settlements and sometimes awards are made with the tax consequences in mind. If the tax consequences are eased, settlements will be easier to reach, and can be lower if the tax consequences are not so severe.

 Posted by marykeating on October 18, 2011 under Discrimination in employment, Pending legislation

5 thoughts on “Proposed Law Makes It Easier to Settle Discrimination Lawsuits

  1. Bravo! I would love to see this law passed. My attorneys insisted my settlement for a civil rights claim would be tax-free but I knew better, and sure enough, the IRS took a third. I wondered at the time how many plaintiffs would not realize the settlement was taxed, only to accept an otherwise unacceptable settlement. It’s surreal to think that a whiplash can net a plaintiff more than loss of a job or even career.

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    • You were one of the people I thought of when I posted. I honestly was unaware of it and it’s just so incredibly unfair. It looks like resolving it is not only pretty simple but bipartisan — certainly a rarity today. Any ideas how we can help make this happen?

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    • The United Nations has a mandatory reiemtrent age of 62, which can be be considered age discrimination, since is solely based on the age of the person, and not on his or her capabilities or performance.The UN mandatory reiemtrent age also means that no person above 62 years of age would be hired. This policy is not consistent with the behavioral change that is mandated in its member states, and it affects women disproportionally. Such disparate impact was recognized by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who stated in March 1999, during the International Year of Older Persons, “Women comprise the majority of older persons in all but a few countries. They are more likely than men to be poor in old age, and more likely to face discrimination.”

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  2. I’m not the one to advise on how to get laws passed, but as you say this should appeal to corporations as much as individuals (since it makes plaintiffs more prone to settle for less, though there will be some who claim it encourages lawsuits). I think the more people are aware of this tax and the proposed act, however, there may be a better chance of it getting passed. I’ll do my part in that regard.

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