The Roots of Wokeness: Title VII Damage Remedies as Potential Drivers of Attitudes Toward Identity Politics and Free Expression

Gail L. Heriot


How might things be different if Title VII’s remedial provisions had not been expanded by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 to allow for the recovery of compensatory and punitive damages, including damages for emotional distress? History doesn’t disclose its alternatives, but one possibility to consider is this: While the more generous remedies likely had many effects, both good and ill, ultimately two of the most lasting and consequential effects may have been to encourage the growth of identity politics and to weaken support for American norms of free expression—at least as those norms apply to statements that relate to race, sex, or national origin. We all know that culture affects law. But, one way or another, law affects culture, too.