In an employment lawsuit filed in Kentucky, a person generally cannot get punitive damages, according to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (also called KRS 344). The case McCullough v State Department of Corrections stated that a person cannot receive punitive damages under the Kentucky state statute even if the case is won.
Under the Federal Civil Rights Act, a person is able to get punitive damages in a case filed here in the state. This is the main difference between the Federal Civil Rights Act and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. (However, Kentucky requires the losing side pays the attorneys fee for the winning side. This is somewhat of a tradeoff for this key difference.
However, there is an exception. A person can get punitive damages if the lawsuit is brought under a public policy wrongful discharge instead of under KRS 344. A public policy wrongful discharge covers situations where a case does not fit under typical cases of discrimination such as age, race, disability, religion and pregnancy.
A person can file a public policy wrongful discharge if a company fires an employee because the employee refused to engage in illegal activity. Another example is if a company fires an employee because they were exercising their legal rights such as joining a union.
In situations like that, a person can get punitive damages if they win, but only if the lawsuit is filed as a public policy wrongful discharge. This is more of a collateral, secondary claim. In addition, the claim can only proceed if there is not also a KRS 344 claim that covers the same lawsuit.
In other words, if your employment lawsuit is filed under KRS 344, you may not also file a public policy wrongful discharge. A person cannot double dip a lawsuit.
Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM (Flickr, Creative Commons)