Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Kolstad Defense Definition:

(USA) A defense an employer can make in a civil rights case to defeat a claim for punitive damages.

Related Terms: Punitive Damages

So-named in reference to the 1999 United States Supreme Court decision1 in which the defense was developed.

In that case, the proposition was made in law that a defendant/employer in a human rights case may defend against a claim for punitive damages that the employer made good faith efforts to enforce an anti-discriminatory policy.

In Chopra, Justice Eginton wrote:

"Defendant invokes the defense articulated in Kolstad, which holds that in the punitive damages context, an employer may not be vicariously liable for the discriminatory employment decisions of managerial agents where these decisions are contrary to the employer's good-faith efforts to comply with Title VII (of Civil Rights Act of 1964).

"In Kolstad, the Supreme Court provided examples of intentional discrimination that does not give rise to punitive damages: (1) where the employer believes that it can lawfully discriminate; (2) where the theory of discrimination is novel or poorly recognized; or (3) where the employer believes that its discrimination falls within a statutory exception.

"The Kolstad defense is one made in the affirmative that should be considered by a jury according to proper instructions."


  • Chopra v. General Elec. Co., 527 F. Supp. 2d 230 (United States District Court, Connecticut, 2007)
  • Kolstad v. American Dental Association, 527 U.S. 526 (1999; Note 1)

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