How Much Is A Tennessee Employment Case Worth?
As an initial matter, it is important to know that employment lawsuits are very different from personal injury cases. Although employment cases often involve facts that are emotionally and financially devastating, there is rarely physical injury for a jury to see. Advertisements and television shows often distort what lawsuits are actually worth, especially employment cases.
Plaintiffs in employment lawsuits are entitled to “make whole” relief, meaning the goal of an employment lawsuit is to restore you to the position (financial and otherwise) that you would have been in had the discrimination not occurred.
The value of a given employment lawsuit varies significantly based on many factors, including the severity of the unlawful conduct, how much money you have lost in earnings and benefits, the type and quality of evidence, and if the harasser and/or company has discriminated against people in the past. Other considerations that can impact case value are laws that cap the amount of damages that can be awarded and your duty to mitigate your damages by seeking out similar employment (see Part II of this article here).
There are generally four types of damages that may be available in employment lawsuits:
- Economic damages
- Compensatory damages
- Punitive damages
- Attorney’s fees and expenses
A key component of damages in employment cases is back pay. Back pay is comprised of your lost wages and the value of your employer-sponsored benefits caused by your termination.
To illustrate how back pay is calculated, let’s say you were terminated and your gross weekly earnings were $600 per week (including pay and benefits) and that 10 weeks have passed since your termination. In this situation, your back pay would equal $6,000 ($600 x 10 weeks) assuming you have no earnings since you were terminated. If you have earnings from a new job, that would be subtracted from the back pay amount. Back pay makes sense to judges, juries, and lawyers because it is calculable and tangible.
The other side of the economic damages coin is front pay (aka future economic damages). Front pay is meant to compensate a plaintiff for the future impact of wrongful termination when reinstatement to your former position would be infeasible.
Front pay may be awarded when: (i) no position is available; (ii) a subsequent working relationship between the parties would be antagonistic; or (iii) the employer has a record of long-term resistance to anti-discrimination efforts.
In determining a front pay award, courts look at several factors, including: (i) age of plaintiff, (ii) amount of time for plaintiff to obtain comparable position, (iii) plaintiff’s length of tenure with defendant; and (iv) the amount of time employees in similar positions had worked with the defendant.B. Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages are meant to compensate a plaintiff for the mental anguish and pain & suffering caused by a wrongful termination. These damages generally require testimony regarding the specific facts of the pain and suffering. As a rule of thumb, the higher amount of compensatory damages requested, the greater amount of proof required, e.g., testimony of an expert regarding the psychological impact of your termination. Always let your lawyer know if you sought any medical treatment for psychological suffering (anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc.) caused by your termination. As discussed below, the maximum amount of compensatory damages that may be awarded is capped by statute in many cases.C. Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are available in cases involving intentional discrimination or where the employer’s action were willful or malicious. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and deter similar illegal actions in the future. In many cases, compensatory and punitive damages are capped based on the size of the employer (up to the maximum of $300,000 combined). However, no damages cap exists for race-based claims filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.D. Attorney’s Fees and Expenses
Many employment law statutes include a fee-shifting provision, which provides the prevailing party with his or her attorney’s fees and expenses. This means that if your attorney takes your case to trial and wins, the company would have to pay your attorney’s fees and expenses (an amount well into six figures). This adds to the company’s potential exposure and sometimes translates into increased leverage in settlement negotiations.
To get a complete picture of what your case could be worth, be sure to review Part II of this Article here.