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What can an employee recover in a lawsuit?

If an employee has been terminated for a discriminatory or retaliatory reason, or if the employee is the victim of employment defamation, the law will permit him or her to recover different elements of damages.  The most basic type of damage claim is for lost wages and benefits. This is known as backpay.

Depending on the facts of the case, the employee may also be able to recover damages for humiliation and embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, mental and emotional pain and suffering.  These are known as compensatory damages.  In addition to these types of damages, an employee who has suffered an adverse job action may recover punitive damages.

Are harassment claims different?

When it comes to calculating damages, harassment claims are fundamentally different.  In harassment cases, the first goal is usually to make the harassment stop.  This usually takes the form of requiring an initial complaint of harassment without a damage claim attached.  If there has been an emotional damage, this can be recovered, but usually not if the employer has made the harassment stop in response to the initial complaint.  In addition, if there are lost wages, benefits or any of the types of damage typically sustained in a termination, those damages are recoverable.

What are the different sources for damage laws?

Anti-discrimination and harassment laws exist under both state and federal laws. Typically, the federal laws allow for punitive damages while many state laws do not.  Although not always the case, both federal and state laws impose damage caps based on the size of the employer.

Most of the laws which prohibit employment discrimination have been passed by either the United States Congress or a state legislative body, therefore, the remedies for such discrimination are spelled out in the statute. Although there are some differences from state to federal law and between states, the common elements of most remedies are similar.

What about attorney’s fees?

Most laws which prohibit employment discrimination and retaliation divide the damages into four different categories: lost wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees and suit expenses.  

What if I haven’t suffered a financial loss?

If you haven't suffered damages, your case is probably not worth pursuing. This could be the case, if you were the victim of unlawful discrimination, but quickly found a higher paying, better job and did not seek any treatment for emotional injury.

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