Probably the most common question asked by clients with employment discrimination claims is: how much is my employment discrimination claim worth? Of course, the answer is always that “it depends.” There are so many factors that go into determining the value of any legal case and the facts surrounding each and every client’s claims are different. Nevertheless, there are a few factors that can help clients understand whether their claims are valuable enough to proceed with a lawsuit or whether a settlement offer is appropriate.
Categories of Damages You Could Potential Recover
In employment discrimination cases, there are several categories of damages that you may be able to recover depending on your situation. Those categories include economic, compensatory, punitive, and liquidated damages. In some cases, you may also be able to recover reasonable attorney’s fees which means your attorney will be paid by the defendant instead of coming out of your pocket.
Two Types of Economic Damages in Employment Discrimination Cases
In employment cases, there are two basic types of economic damages that you can potentially recover: back pay and front pay. Both of these types of damages are based on the wages you would have earned had you not be discriminated against. Back pay refers to the amount of wages you would have earned had you not been terminated or subjected to some other adverse employment action. Back pay is calculated from the date of the discriminatory action (e.g. termination) and the date of your trial (or settlement). This amount should include benefits, as well.
Front pay, on the other hand, is an estimate of the wages you should receive if you were reinstated to your position. Front pay is often awarded in lieu of reinstatement since not every employee will want to return to the discriminatory environment. Front pay is considered discretionary and is only awarded to compensate an employee when it is improbable that the employee will be able to obtain a comparable position.
The Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Compensatory damages generally compensate employment discrimination victims for losses such as out-of-pocket expenses caused by the discrimination (such as costs associated with a job search or medical expenses) and any emotional harm suffered (such as mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life).
The purpose of punitive damages, on the other hand, is to punish the employer for its discriminatory actions if there is evidence of malice or recklessness or very egregious conduct. Not every claim is eligible for punitive damages, so this is something that you should discuss with your employment discrimination attorney. Under certain statutes, there are limits on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.
Liquidated Damages and Attorney’s Fees
These two types of damages are only allowed by statute. For example, the ADEA, EPA, and FMLA all provide for the award of liquidated damages. In most cases, that means the employee is automatically entitled to a certain amount of compensation if there was a “willful violation” of the relevant statute. That means there is evidence that the employer knew the discriminatory conduct violated federal law but acted anyway. Similarly, attorney fees are only awarded if the statute specifically authorizes it. Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, FMLA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, all authorize attorney fees to be awarded to the prevailing party.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!