Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Tax Court determines Emotional distress damages taxable since not derived from physical injury
Tax Court determines Emotional distress damages taxable since not derived from physical injury In Barbato v. Comm., TC Memo 2016-23, the U.S. Tax Court determined that a taxpayer who was awarded damages by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for her emotional distress for discrimination against her constituted taxable income. The court ruled that she did not meet Code §104(a)(2) requirements for excluding damage awards from gross income. §104(a)(2) excludes damages received for personal physical injury or physical sickness from gross income. Because emotional distress is not considered a physical injury or physical sickness, taxpayers must include damages they receive for emotional distress in their gross income unless the damages are paid for medical care attributable to the emotional distress. §104(a). Only "damages for emotional distress attributable to a physical injury or physical sickness are excluded from income under Code Sec. 104(a)(2)." See also Treas. Reg. §1.104-1(c)) In Barbato, the taxpayer had been a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) letter carrier who incurred injuries to her neck and back in a job related car accident. Her physical limitations required her to switch from a letter carrier to an office position at the USPS. She was eventually reassigned to carrying mail but her old position caused her to have more pain. When she complained, she was discriminated against. As a result, she claimed severe stress and emotional difficulties as a result and was awarded $70,000 by the EEOC for the emotional distress caused by the discrimination. The administrative Judge ruled that she suffered from depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that the conditions were caused by and/or exacerbated by the actions which were found to be discriminatory. The Tax Court found that the damages did not fit within the exclusion provided in §104(a)(2) and thus were taxable. The Tax Court said that the EEOC decision was clear that the damages USPS paid to the taxpayer were for emotional distress attributable to discrimination. The $70,000 in damages for emotional distress was "proximately caused by the discrimination" of USPS' employees and not for emotional distress attributable to a physical injury or physical sickness. The decision clearly stated that the taxpayer’s "significant physical distress and pain" "were exacerbated by non-discriminatory actions."