To understand what your case is worth, it is important to understand the types of damages available and how an attorney will assess your claims. Here is a quick primer on how to determine the value of your discrimination, harassment, or retaliation case.
What is the Average Settlement for a Discrimination or Retaliation Claim?
It is impossible to know what an “average” settlement is because most cases resolve through settlement, and the settlement amount is usually confidential.
According to EEOC data, the average out-of-court settlement for employment discrimination claims is about $40,000. Studies of verdicts have shown that about 10% of wrongful termination cases result in a verdict of $1 million or more. Of these, employees lost at least half of all cases.
As this data shows, the average value of an employment discrimination case varies widely. It depends on where you live, the type of case, the extent of your damages, and the strength of your proof, among other factors. Understanding how an attorney will value your case and evaluate these factors can be helpful to deciding whether to pursue litigation.
What Kinds of Damages Can I Recover in an Employment Case?
In general, you can recover the following damages if you win your employment case:
Economic damages (back pay and front pay): Economic damages are made up of your actual economic losses. These include your lost wages and lost benefits caused by the discriminatory or retaliatory conduct.
You have a duty to mitigate your economic damages, which is a fancy way of saying you need to try to find another job if you were wrongfully terminated. If your case involves lost promotions or career growth, an expert witness may be needed to estimate what the discrimination has cost you.
Non-economic damages: These are often the largest component of damages in employment discrimination cases. These damages are designed to compensate you for the emotional distress and suffering the discriminatory or retaliatory conduct caused you.
You will need to actually prove these damages in a rigorous way: it is not enough to say you were upset, or that the experience was stressful.
To maximize your non-economic damages, you will need to keep detailed records or provide compelling testimony about the harm the defendant’s conduct caused you. It is often helpful to seek therapy or professional treatment, both because it may help you recover from the experience of discrimination and because the treatment records can be used as evidence of significant emotional distress in your case.
Punitive damages: Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant. They are not linked to the amount of harm you suffered, except that a judge can reduce the amount of punitive damages if they are many times the size of your actual damages. Punitive damages are only available if the defendant acted with “malice” or knowing disregard for your rights.
Attorneys’ fees and costs of suit: An attorneys’ fee award will be based on the amount of time your attorneys spent on the case. Similarly, an award of costs of suit is based on the actual amount of money you or your attorneys spent to litigate the case.
Understanding these types of damages can help you evaluate what your attorney tells you about the value of your case.
What is My Employment Discrimination Case Worth?
An attorney will look at many factors in recommending that you accept or reject a settlement offer, including:
- The strength of your proof and the risk you will lose at liability
- The extent of damages you suffered
- Whether your employer’s conduct was egregious and likely to make a jury angry
- Whether your employer has a track record of violating employee’s rights
- Whether your case is in court or in private arbitration
- Whether your employer has the money to pay a judgment
- Whether your employer has insurance policies that cover the claims, and how much those policies are worth
- Your concerns about the litigation process and your willingness to wait for the time-consuming process of litigation to conclude
This is not a calculus you can perform in a spreadsheet, and it takes years of practice for an employment lawyer to have a good sense of case value at an early stage. However, an experienced employment lawyer will be able to weigh these factors and explain exactly why they think a particular outcome is reasonable for your case.
So Is it Worth it to Sue Your Employer?
It depends. Some people bring lawsuits because they feel like their employer’s conduct was unfair and they do not want their employer to “get away with it.” Litigation is a good way to create accountability. It is also a good way to get compensation for the harms you've suffered. If you have lost significant earnings, your career trajectory has been seriously impaired, or your self-conception or self-esteem has taken a serious hit, suing your employer may help you recover from these harms.
If you are looking to sue because you want to retire in a year and own a luxury yacht, the reality is that there are better ways to get rich than bringing an employment case. Many employment cases do not win, meaning you might end up with nothing. The litigation system is not designed to help you get a windfall, no matter what you have heard about the McDonald’s “hot coffee” case.
That said, litigation is very important in our democratic system. It is one of the only ways regular folks can hold the powerful accountable. It allows the public, through the court system, to learn what your employer has done. And it has the power to force organizations to change their practices to prevent the same misconduct from harming other employees in the future.
Talk to an Experienced Employment Discrimination Lawyer
Employment discrimination is serious and it is important to hold companies to account. Our experienced employment lawyers are dedicated to representing employees in their most important legal disputes. We are not afraid to take on the biggest companies and take pride in providing personalized, client-focused representation.
If you believe you've been discriminated against at work, we are here for you. Contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to find out how we may be able to help.