Eight years after Congress, in a major battle, approved the recovery of damages for job discrimination in so-called Title VII cases, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the critical issue of when punitive damages can be awarded to punish and deter an employer’s illegal conduct.

The punitive damages question stems from a suit brought by a female lawyer who lost a promotion to a male candidate who, she claims, was less qualified. Even though her suit falls under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the outcome of the high court challenge�which will be argued on March 1�almost all parties agree, will also influence the standard for awarding these damages under other civil rights laws.