Yesterday the Alaska Supreme Court issued opinion
No. 6809 S-14762 Kennedy v. Municipality of Anchorage. The case concerned employment discrimination claims. The opinion’s focus was discovery issues, jury instructions, evidence and argument on Mental Anguish Damages. Employment discrimination victims are entitled to compensation for mental anguish, among other things.
Employment Discrimination Claims — Recovering Mental Anguish Damages
Mental anguish on the other hand is fairly ephemeral. Just how much is a bad day worth? How do you quantify embarrassment? What evidence may an employer force the employee to give them to test whether the employee: is faking a bad day; having a bad day from some other reason; or, has a preexisting bad day condition.
Employment Discrimination Claims — Discovery Scope
The general rule on discovery is: you get to seek not just admissible evidence; but, also those things that will lead to admissible evidence. Many states simply adopted the rule that when a person makes a mental anguish claim, the defendant gets to look at their mental health medical records. Many of the decisions underlying the original rule arise from tort claims and not employment. The torts of intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress also provide for compensation. For the claimant to recover the claimant must suffer severe emotional distress. As a bright line rule courts adopted severe distress required medical treatment. Statutory discrimination claims were created in part to lower the evidentiary standard for damage recovery.
Alaska Rejects Automatic Disclosure in Employment Discrimination Claims
Alaska rejected the automatic disclosure rule and paved the way for “garden variety” emotional distress claims in employment discrimination claims. In Alaska, Employees can now assert embarrassment and bad day claims without automatically exposing their mental health medical records to their employer, juries and the public. The employee can choose to limit exposing their medical records by carefully limiting their claim and the testimony that they give. These non severe “garden variety” claims will be compensated in Alaska employment discrimination claims. Alternatively, the employee can claim severe mental damages and waive your privilege to keep your medical records confidential.
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Clayton Walker, JD