Although we welcomed The Post's focus on key provisions of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1990 {"Rights Bill Would Alter Workplace," front page, June 8}, we fear that the article may have created some misimpressions with regard to the damages section of the act. This section would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to provide victims of intentional employment discrimination based on gender, race, national origin or religion with the ability to seek damages for their injuries, just as racial discrimination victims have been able to do for years under Section 1981.

The proposed damages remedy is of enormous importance. Currently, woefully inadequate remedies are available to victims of purposeful discrimination, who, because the discrimination they suffer is not based on race, are not protected under Section 1981. Women, for example, who prove they were intentionally fired because of their sex or subjected to sexual harassment on the job cannot receive compensation for the severe medical harm and its attendant costs or the serious emotional distress they often suffer. The Civil Rights Act of 1990 would take the critically important step of ensuring that all victims of intentional discrimination have access to the same remedies. There would no longer be second-class discrimination victims.

Employers have been able to live with damages for race discrimination for years and do not oppose the proposed amendment. Yet, The Post story gave prominence to employers' unsubstantiated claims that a Title VII damages remedy would somehow "unleash a flood of lawsuits." The story acknowledged that the Washington law firm of Shea and Gardner completed a study for the National Women's Law Center that showed that damage awards under Section 1981 for race discrimination are both infrequent and modest in amount. This study of all cases reported during the 1980s provides the best available predictor of what we can expect from a damages remedy under Title VII.

The Post story cited unnamed "business lobbyists," who claimed that the Shea and Gardner study covered less than 2 percent of the "relevant" cases. This criticism is unfounded. The study covered all reported cases. Of course, reported cases represent only a percentage of all claims filed -- other cases either settle, are resolved but not reported or are dismissed by the court. However, a study of reported cases is highly relevant, because the final disposition of all discrimination claims is based on the reported case law. No business lobbyist has offered any hard evidence of cases that have settled for amounts higher than the reported cases. Presumably, this is because there is none. In fact, research shows that reported cases represent the high end of awards -- settlements tend to be for far smaller amounts.

The many supporters of a damages provision recognize that it is only fair that employers who purposefully discriminate, and not their victims, should pay for the harm that the discrimination causes.


Managing Attorney, National Women's Law Center Washington