At King & Siegel LLP, we have helped hundreds of workers hold employers accountable through legal actions. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against at work, we are here for you. Call us today at 213-465-4802!
Typically, the average employment lawsuit settlement is $40,000, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. A sexual harassment lawsuit may settle for $120,000 or even millions, while an unpaid wage lawsuit averages $40,000. A wrongful termination settlement may range from $120,000 to several million dollars. And there are a few standout verdicts in especially egregious cases where a jury awarded over $100 million to employment plaintiffs.
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 data from the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 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. It also depends on your attorneys and their track record – For example, our average case resolves for far more than $40,000. Understanding how an attorney will value your case and evaluate these factors can be helpful in deciding whether to pursue litigation.
WHAT IS THE TYPICAL EEOC MEDIATION SETTLEMENT AMOUNT?
Discrimination cases vary from claimant to claimant in so many different ways, including the type of resolution a claimant chooses. You might resolve your issue through an administrative hearing, a private employment discrimination settlement, a jury trial, or an EEOC mediation settlement.
So, what is the typical EEOC mediation settlement amount? In 2020, 6,272 discrimination cases were resolved by EEOC mediation, resulting in $156.6 million in monetary benefits. This makes the average settlement amount approximately $25,000 per claimant. But remember that not all cases are the same, so your case might be worth significantly more or less than the average.
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 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; and
- 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.
DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO MAKE YOUR DISCRIMINATION CASE?
Basically, your chances of winning a discrimination lawsuit depend on the quality of your evidence. To receive most types of damages available in an EEOC charge or lawsuit, you have to prove that your claim is more likely true than not true. This is called a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. As the plaintiff, it is your job to meet this threshold.
A good way to prove that your position is the right one is by presenting multiple types of evidence that reinforce your claim. The three types of evidence that the EEOC evaluates when handling a claim are direct evidence, comparative evidence, and statistical evidence.
The types of proof the EEOC uses can come in the following forms:
- Personnel records,
- Healthcare records,
- Witness testimony (from you and others),
- Employer guides and policies,
- Employment agreements,
- Complaint history against your employer,
- Recordings (if legally obtained according to state law),
- Wage records,
- Disciplinary records,
- Education records, and
Sometimes statistical and comparative evidence in the form of complaint histories or an employer’s hiring, disciplinary, and firing decisions against multiple employees is hard to come by without attorney help. Under California law, you have the right to inspect your own personnel files and employment records. But if you need to see others’ personnel records to prove that your employer does not treat similarly situated employees equally, you might need to utilize well-crafted interrogatories, subpoenas, and other legal tools to obtain the information.
CHALLENGES WHEN FILING A DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT
Unsurprisingly, dealing with a discriminatory employer is not easy. The discrimination itself is disheartening, as no employee should fear losing their livelihood because of their protected characteristics. And filing and maintaining a discrimination complaint can be a challenging process because of the costs, hard work, risks, and uncertainty involved.
A COMPLAINT CAN BE EXPENSIVE
Filing a discrimination complaint with the EEOC is free. But many complaints are difficult to maintain without the help of an experienced attorney. Often, attorney assistance can cost thousands of dollars in a flat fee agreement or hundreds of dollars per hour. If your case takes a long time to resolve, you might owe thousands to your attorney, even if you don’t win. However, a discrimination case might be the best way to clear your name and move ahead in your profession. And if your claim is successful, you might have the option of recouping the money you spent on legal counsel.
You can mitigate this risk by finding an attorney who will take your case on a contingency basis. At King & Siegel, all of our employment case representations are on contingency, meaning you don’t pay anything unless you win.
A COMPLAINT CAN BE UNPREDICTABLE
When you make a claim of workplace discrimination, the resolution of your claim is usually in the hands of a judge or jury, both of which can have their own biases and flaws. In fact, discrimination in jury selection is still a problem in this country. Some judges or jury members who have not experienced discrimination themselves might be less inclined to believe your story. Or those who have their own prejudices may be less likely to listen to the valid complaints of a claimant. But having an attorney who can watch out for sneaky jury selection tactics of opposing counsel or file a motion for recusal to remove a biased judge from your case can help even the playing field between you and your employer.
If you believe there was misconduct or bad decision-making at play in your discrimination case, you also have the option of filing an appeal with the EEOC or civil court. Appeals are harder to win than initial proceedings because appellate judges give a lot of deference to a trial court’s conclusions, and there is rarely a chance to submit new evidence. Once again, an experienced attorney can identify the best arguments to make and techniques to employ to give you the best chance of winning an appeal.
FILING A DISCRIMINATION CHARGE COULD AFFECT YOUR PROFESSIONAL OPTIONS
There are a number of ways that a discrimination case can make future job searches more challenging for victims of discrimination. If you were fired from your job for discriminatory reasons and you lose your discrimination case, you may have a hard time explaining your termination to any prospective employer who asks. And if you don’t have a good explanation for losing a job in the past, a potential employer might pass on your application.
And even if you win your discrimination case after being fired, some employers might still hesitate to hire you, fearing that you are “too litigious.” Technically, refusing to hire a job applicant because they filed a discrimination claim against a former employer is illegal. But if you want to take a new employer to task for unlawfully denying your job application, you’ll likely have to file another discrimination or retaliation complaint and deal with the costs and challenges that follow.
Although we have mentioned several potential setbacks that crop up in an employment discrimination complaint, but these pitfalls don’t mean that you shouldn’t file a complaint. Sometimes, initiating legal action against a discriminatory employer is the best decision you can make for yourself, your family, and the community at large.
CHANGES TO THE LAW THAT MIGHT MAKE YOUR DISCRIMINATION CASE EASIER
We have already discussed the challenges you might face when you initiate a discrimination claim. So, let’s discuss some new laws that might make adjudicating your claim easier.
THE EQUAL PAY ACT
Since 2015, there have been several updates to California’s Equal Pay Act, including adding race to the protected categories in unequal pay claims, broadening the examples a claimant can use to prove unequal pay, and restricting employers’ options for justifying their biased behavior.
ARBITRATION FOR SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Many employees who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace have experienced additional oppression from the arbitration agreements their employers make them sign. To avoid negative publicity and receive more favorable outcomes in legal actions, some businesses and organizations make their employees sign agreements promising to arbitrate claims of sexual harassment in the workplace. These agreements often put employees at a disadvantage when they need to seek justice for sex-based discrimination.
In 2022, the federal government enacted the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021. This new law voids provisions in pre-dispute employment agreements that prevent employees from using non-arbitration methods for resolving sexual harassment complaints.
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 harm 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 213-465-4802 to find out how we may be able to help.