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What types of damages are unlimited if I file a lawsuit?

What Money Damages Can I Recover in an Employment Lawsuit? Part 1

In our last post, we mentioned our online damages calculator, which you can use to determine whether it is financially worthwhile for you to file a lawsuit. Today, we’ll explore various categories of money damages, which are an award of money that you might be entitled to if you are able to win your lawsuit.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, certain categories of damages are capped at a maximum allowed value based on the size of the employer. Other damages, as discussed below, are not capped: the employer is on the hook for the entire amount regardless of its size.

Uncapped damages include lost back and front wages, consequential damages, and interest. These are the types of damages we’ll discuss today.

Back Wages

These are the wages that you would have earned if the discrimination or harassment had never occurred. You can calculate back wages by subtracting what you made after being fired or demoted from what you made before. But here’s where the calculations include some guesswork.

First, the total amount of back wages is calculated from the time the wrongful act occurred until the time you win at trial. Assuming that you do win at trial, a number of factors can affect how quickly this might happen, including which court your case is in and your judge’s caseload. This calculator assumes that two years pass from the time the wrongful event occurred until the day you win a verdict. It is possible that the time required for your case could be more or less than two years.

Second, the total wages lost depend on whether you earn any money from another source to replace what you lost from your job. If you receive unemployment or income from another source during this time, those earnings will be subtracted from total lost wages. For instance, if you were making $10,000 per month before you got fired and you made zero after, you would be entitled to back wages in the amount of $10,000 per month until you win at trial. (If you lose, you would get nothing.)

Let’s further suppose that at the time you complete this calculation, you had no other income, so you entered zero for that amount. The calculator will assume that your back wages will be $10,000 per month times 24 months, for a total of $240,000. But what if you get a great job three months later where you earn $15,000 per month (lucky devil)? Well, that changes your calculation quite a bit. Now your lost wages would be $10,000 a month times only three months, because after the three-month mark, you were doing better than you were before you were wrongfully fired. Now your lost wages are not $240,000 but only $30,000.

You might be wondering whether your case is worth anything if you don’t have any lost wages. What if you stayed in your job with the same salary? For instance, let’s say you complained about sexual harassment at work. After you did, the company left you at the same salary and benefits but essentially demoted you by taking away many of your responsibilities, leaving you to do low-level work instead. The answer is yes, you can still recover damages in that kind of situation, but they will not be lost wages damages. You would instead be trying to recover damages for emotional distress and possibly punitive damages as well.

Front Wages

This is the amount of money you would have earned if you had not been fired or demoted, counting from the time after you win at trial until some future point beyond that. These damages are typically awarded by a judge after hearing expert testimony—from an economist, for instance—about when you might be able to find adequate replacement income. The calculator tries to estimate this by asking you whether and when you think you will find replacement income.

If you say that you believe you will find replacement income within two years, then the calculator assumes that you will not receive any front wages, because you will have found a similar job and replaced your income before you ever win at trial. If you answer no, the calculator’s default assumption is that will receive two years of front wages. Whether you would actually receive that much is difficult to say. Even if you win, front wages are discretionary, which means that you could receive zero front wages or more than two years’ worth of front wages. Assuming that you were to win front wages, two years is a reasonable amount to be awarded, so that is what the calculator uses.

Note that for both back and front wages, you have a duty to mitigate your damages. We will talk more about this later, but the gist is that you need to actively look for work or otherwise try to replace your income.

Consequential Damages

Any money that you had to spend as a result of being fired is recoverable as “consequential damages.” This might include your out-of-pocket medical expenses, moving costs if you had to relocate, or travel expenses. Generally, you’ll need evidence of consequential damages like a receipt: for example, a medical bill, a bill from the movers, or other proof of payment. Consequential damages can also include financial damages that you suffered because of a damaged credit report after you lost your income. You can demonstrate these damages by showing that your credit rating dropped because you couldn’t pay your bills after losing your job and that the damaged credit report cost you money over time in the form of higher interest rates, decreased borrowing power, or other effects.

Important tip: After getting fired, the last thing you probably have on your mind is keeping a record of all the ways that you have been harmed. You’re dealing with tough emotions, not to mention the pressing need to find another job. But to maximize the value of your court case, take some time to diligently collect this information, even if you just keep a folder (physical or electronic) to put these records in.

Interest Rate

For all noncapped damages, the court will calculate a reasonable interest rate and add that to your recoverable damages. Our online damages calculator assumes an interest rate of 2.8%.

Summing It Up

While some damages are limited in an employment discrimination case, many damages that you may be entitled to are limited only by what you can prove you lost. These include lost back wages, front wages (if you took a pay cut at your new job), consequential damages or costs that you incurred from losing your job, and interest on your losses.

Want to learn more? To check your calculations or discuss specific questions you may have about your case, we welcome you to set up a no-cost consultation with an attorney.

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