Legal Memorandum: Emotional Distress Damages in PR

Issue: Under Puerto Rico law, how are emotional distress damages proven in an employment discrimination case?

Area of Law: Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Employment discrimination case; Emotional distress damages
Jurisdiction: Puerto Rico
Cited Cases: 439 F.2d 844; 550 F.2d 834; 369 F. Supp. 832; 772 F.2d 1303; 404 F. Supp. 324; 773 F.2d 1116; 435 U.S. 247; 488 F.2d 691
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1981;
Date: 05/01/2004

A party who seeks damages for emotional distress is required to present specific facts that his health, wellness and happiness were affected; temporary grief is insufficient.  See Moa v. ELA, 100 D.P.R. 573 (1972); Ramón Rivera v. ELA, 90 D.P.R. 828 (1964).  Inconvenience, hard times, difficulties, and ordinary suffering are not compensable in Puerto Rico.  See Barrientos v. Gobierno de la Capital, 97 D.P.R. 552 (1969).

It is important that the emotional-distress award not be punitive rather than compensatory.  Punitive damages are not warranted or permitted.  See Ganapolsky v. Park Gardens Development Corp., 439 F.2d 844 (1st Cir. 1971); Ruiz Guardiola v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 100 D.P.R. 817 (1972). 

Cases that sometimes are cited for the contrary position are not on point.   For example, Negrón cited Rogers v. Exxon Research & Eng’g Co., 404 F. Supp. 324 (D.N.J. 1975), rev’d on other grounds, 550 F.2d 834 (3d Cir. 1977), is often cited for the proposition that courts have characterized discrimination claims as tortious.  In that case, the jury returned an award of $750,000 for emotional-distress caused by age discrimination.  The case was reversed on appeal, because emotional-distress damages were not available for age-discrimination claims.  “Congress saw fit to restrict the penalty provisions of the Act to doubling the amount of lost earnings.  To allow psychic distress awards in addition would in a very real sense thwart the limitation Congress thought advisable to impose.”  Rogers, 550 […]

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