RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Friday threw out a jury's $2 million award in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by former Duke place-kicker Heather Sue Mercer.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that punitive damages are not available in private actions brought to enforce Title IX, the law that bars sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds.
Mercer was cut from the team before the 1996 season. Her attorney, Burton Craige of Raleigh, N.C., said he had not seen the ruling and had no immediate comment.
Duke officials issued a statement in which they said they were pleased by the decision and remain "committed to aggressively advancing our support for women's athletics through implementation of our Title IX plan."
A federal jury in Greensboro, N.C., had ordered Duke to pay the punitive damages and $1 in compensatory damages to Mercer, who earned a spot on the Blue Devils' roster as a walk-on in 1995 but never played in a game. She was dropped from the team by then-coach Fred Goldsmith.
Goldsmith, now head coach at Franklin High School in Franklin, N.C., did not immediately return a telephone call about the ruling.
The appeals court said the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that punitive damages may not be awarded in lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mercer cannot collect punitive damages because the ADA and Title IX are interpreted and applied in the same manner, the appeals court ruled.
The court, however, rejected Duke's claim that it should not have to pay attorney fees for a plaintiff who collected only $1 in compensatory damages. The court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty Jr. to determine the amount of attorney fees, if any, Duke should pay.
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