HR Management & Compliance

Tennessee legislation will amend THRA, TPPA

by David L. Johnson

On May 13, the Tennessee General Assembly passed House Bill 1954/Senate Bill 2126, which will significantly amend the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) and the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA) in a manner favorable to employers. Governor Bill Haslam is expected to sign the bill later this month. Once signed, it will take effect on July 1, 2014.

The legislation imposes a cap on compensatory damages an aggrieved employee may recover for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses under both the THRA and the TPPA.

The caps are tiered based on the number of employees a business has and range from $25,000 (for employers with fewer than 15 employees) to $300,000 (for employers with more than 500 employees). The caps will not apply to back pay, interest on back pay, front pay, or equitable relief. In addition, under the THRA, employees and other agents of employers will be immune from liability for an employer’s unlawful discriminatory acts.

The bill makes two other major changes to the TPPA, which is also known as the “whistleblower statute.” First, an employee may not pursue a retaliatory discharge claim for “blowing the whistle” on his employer unless he complained to someone other than the employer. Second, and perhaps most important, the bill eliminates the separate common-law retaliatory discharge claim. That is significant because the TPPA requires an employee to prove that his protected activity served as the sole reason for his termination. Under the common-law claim, an employee need prove only that the protected activity served as one of the reasons for his termination.

David Johnson is an attorney with Butler Snow LLP. He can be reached at 615-651-6731 or

1 thought on “Tennessee legislation will amend THRA, TPPA”

  1. Not an issue, as per federal statue any limitations placed on federal laws by individual states is rendered mute. Therefore, when engaging such a state law that limits recovery, you would need to raise the federal statue arguing the intent of congress. Congress made it clear that discrimination will not be tolerated. Therefore, to assume that congresses intent was to allow states to limit recovery is flawed. I would site eeoc policies relying on their case history as the government division charged with enforcement. Therefore, states need to be carefull not to run up against federal laws. The bottom line is that the federal government only limits sexual harassment. In its purest form, the appearance of intentional discrimination whereas any form of retaliation encompasses intent and therefore a violation of law not limited by caps. It would be rational for a reasonable person to conclude that congress intented punitive damages in Ada cases as the only means availible to compensate the victum is punitive damage awards. Without this interpatation the law would be mute. The issue is of utmost importance to the country as demonstrated by the establishment of government organizations with regulatory authority. The funding and purpose of these organizations clearly demonstrate the seriousness of the issue. Therefore, it can not be implied that congresses intent was to limit recovery. There is confusion as per caps, but intent is the designiative feature. Let us also understand that the Supreme Court issued jury instructions in a discrimination suit, whereas the court made it clear that punitive damages for Intentional discrimination is intented to punish the offender. It continued stating a fine should sting, but not distorying a business. They also made it clear that the caps do not apply in cases of intent by making the defendants entire financial assets available. They have made it clear that the award should sting and therefore a capped reward would not sting a larger business and would be in total disagreement with congressional intent. This means state laws restricting recovery are subject to a challenge. That challenge could well establish a case of intentional discrimination against the state. Ada is twenty years old, but business owners haven’t, violators should be given an opportunity to correct the issue at hand and a fair time frame based on assets to correct. If a charge is raised and the business

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