Tarr v. Ciasulli is a sexual harassment case between a female employee and her ex-employer, an automobile dealership. This long-running drama has spawned two published opinions, the more recent one having come down on February 26.
The new opinion deals with the circumstances in which punitive damages can be awarded. In short, the court held that under the Punitive Damages Act, punitive damages cannot be enhanced based upon an argument that awarding punitives against a particular defendant (Ciasulli) will deter other employers from engaging in similar unlawful behavior.
Punitive damages retain their deterrent nature. An employer can look at the award against Ciasulli, for instance, and conclude that he should not make the same mistake. However, it is now improper for a court to charge a jury that the punitive damages award against Ciasulli should be enhanced in order to increase its deterrent effect.
There was a dissenting opinion by Judge Sapp-Peterson, which gives a right of appeal to the Supreme Court. We shall see whether the case makes its second trip to New Jersey's highest court.