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.