This is one of the most common questions from those who want to file an employment discrimination claim. Naturally, clients always want to know how much they can expect to recover in damages if they file a claim against their employer. Since each case is unique and is based on a number of specific factors, the short answer to this question is, “it depends”.
Specifically, it depends on factors such as the types and amounts of losses you have suffered, the strength of your case, the capacity of your employer to pay the damages that you are owed, and your risk tolerance.
Before discussing these factors in further detail, it is important to talk about how employment discrimination cases usually work. In most cases, the defendant (i.e., your employer) will bring a motion for summary judgment. Essentially, this is like a motion to dismiss the case, except that it is brought after the discovery phase.
In a motion for summary judgment, the defendant argues that, based on all of the evidence that has been gathered, you do not have a viable case, and therefore the judge should dismiss it without giving you a trial. If the motion is granted, this is basically the end of your claim. And unfortunately, summary judgments are granted in a significant number of employment discrimination cases.
The second thing to keep in mind is that most cases do not go to trial. Usually, a settlement is negotiated between the two parties, and hopefully the plaintiff ends up with a reasonable settlement that reflects full and fair compensation for their losses.
Defendants especially do not like to go to trial, because trials are very risky. Juries are unpredictable, and a defendant could end up having to pay a much larger damage award if the case is litigated.
For this reason, the value of your case goes up significantly if it survives summary judgment, or if the strength of your case convinces the other side that it is likely to survive summary judgment. In such cases, the defendant may be willing to pay a generous sum to avoid the prospect of going to trial.
Now, the risk of going to trial is a two-way street, and this goes back to the plaintiff’s risk tolerance. When you decide to litigate a case, you are rolling the dice. You could end up with a friendly jury that gives you a very large damage award, sometimes even far more than you are asking for. But on the other hand, the jury could find in the defendant’s favor, which means you end up with nothing.
During the process, you will work closely with your attorney to determine which course of action is best for you. For example, sometimes, it is worth it to push forward toward a trial if the other side does not appear to be negotiating in good faith. However, as litigation approaches, the defendant might face up to reality and start making reasonable offers, at which time you will have to decide if you are willing to accept a settlement or go to trial.
What Types of Damages can I Recover from a Discrimination Claim?
The general objective of an employment discrimination claim is to compensate you for your losses and restore you (to the extent which it is possible) to where you would have been had your employer’s misconduct not occurred.
This is accomplished through compensatory damages, which can be grouped into two general categories:
- Economic Damages: The two types of economic damages that are recoverable from discrimination lawsuits are back pay and front pay. Back pay is the amount you have lost from the time of your employer’s misconduct up to the present. Front pay is the amount you are projected to lose going forward because of the misconduct.
- Noneconomic Damages: The stress and anxiety of being discriminated against, wrongfully terminated, being out of work, being humiliated, and having your reputation assaulted can take a major emotional toll on those who have to go through this. This is an intangible factor that is difficult to put a price on, but nonetheless, employers are responsible to compensate employees who suffer emotional distress due to their misconduct.
If there is evidence that the employer’s misconduct was willful, reckless or malicious, punitive damages may be awarded over and above those damages that are meant to compensate the harmed employee. Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer for their wrongdoing and help discourage similarly egregious conduct in the future. The threat of punitive damages can add significant value to a discrimination claim.
If you go to trial and win, the defendant may also have to pay reasonable attorney fees over and above your damage award. Litigation is time consuming, and attorneys typically put in hundreds of hours before the trial is over. This can be another strong piece of leverage during negotiations, because in many instances, an employer would rather settle at a premium than risk having to pay legal fees on top of an unpredictable damage award.
Can your Employer Afford to Pay Your Claim?
One final thing to consider in determining the value of a discrimination claim is whether or not your employer has the ability to pay it. If you are bringing a claim against a medium to large-sized organization, this might not be much of an issue. However, if your claim is against a sole proprietor or small business, it could definitely be a factor.
Taking a case to trial and winning a large judgment against a small business might seem satisfying at first, until you realize that they do not have the ability to pay it. This is an issue you will need to discuss with your attorney in deciding whether or not filing a discrimination claim is worth it, and if it is worth it, the best strategy for recovering the maximum amount of damages that is realistic under the circumstances.
Have you Experienced Employment Discrimination in Alabama? Contact Attorney Kira Fonteneau for Assistance
As you can see, the value of a discrimination claim depends on numerous variables, and it must be determined based on the specific circumstances of your case. If you are in Alabama and you believe you have a discrimination case, attorney Kira Fonteneau is here to help. Call our office today at 205-564-9005 or message us online to schedule a free consultation and case assessment.
We look forward to serving you!