Unlawful discrimination can occur in many forms and for many illegal reasons. However, the recoverable damages in California for most types of discrimination cases are generally very similar. Compensatory damages are generally recoverable in discrimination cases, including lost compensation (lost back pay and front pay) and emotional distress damages. Additionally, depending on whether managing agents, directors or corporate officers where involved or ratified the unlawful discrimination, punitive damages may also be awarded. Finally, depending on the statutes that are applicable to the particular discrimination case, a victorious employee may be able to recover attorney fees, which were spent in bringing the case.
Damages for lost compensation means that an employee is entitled to recover money to make him or her whole, to compensate for the economic loss caused by the unlawful discrimination. For example, if a person is wrongfully terminated, they are entitled to recover the money they would have earned, and the value of the benefits they would have gotten, had they not been illegally terminated. This would generally include an award of back pay and front pay. Back pay is the amount of lost wages a person has incurred at the time of the loss calculation (the calculation looks to the past to determine how much money the person has lost since the termination). Front pay is the estimated, or the projected, amount of lost wages that a person is likely to incur in the future. Moreover, the damages awarded for the economic loss should also include the value of any lost benefits, such as the value of medical insurance, dental and vision insurance, 401K plans, etc.
A damage award for lost wages and benefits must include mitigation. A plaintiff in a wrongful termination case has a duty to mitigate their damages, which means they have a duty to make a reasonable effort to seek alternative employment after the illegal termination. Thus, plaintiffs in a wrongful termination case must be able to prove they have been seeking work to mitigate the economic loss caused by the illegal termination. A damage award for lost wages and benefits is made after considering a plaintiff’s mitigation of the damage caused by the termination. For example, if a plaintiff gets a job after the wrongful termination, their damages for lost wages and benefits will be mitigated by the wages and benefits earned at the new job. For example, if a plaintiff made $50,000 a year at the job they were illegally terminated from, but after the termination found a job paying $40,000 a year, their damage for lost wages would be $10,000 per year. The plaintiff is entitled to recover in damages the lost wages he/she would have made had they not been illegally terminated after considering the employee’s mitigation of their loss.
A plaintiff in a discrimination case can generally recover damages for emotional distress. A plaintiff is generally entitled to compensation for the injuries suffered do to emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses caused by the unlawful discrimination. Further, recovery for emotional distress may encompass not only past emotional distress caused by the unlawful discrimination, but also emotional distress reasonably certain to result in the future. Since the emotional damage caused to an employee from unlawful discrimination, like an illegal termination, is usually very severe, jury awards to compensate victims of discrimination for their emotional distress can be very substantial.
Punitive damages are available against nongovernment entities under certain circumstances in discrimination cases. To get punitive damages a plaintiff must show that the unlawful conduct was intentional and showed malice, oppression, or fraud. Further, in order to hold a corporation liable for punitive damages an officer, director or managing agent for the corporation must be involved in the wrongdoing, approve it, or ratify it in some way. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer for the illegal conduct that harmed the plaintiff, and to discourage any future similar conduct. There is no fixed formula for awarding punitive damages, but the more reprehensible the conduct, the larger a punitive damage award will likely be.
Finally, many statutes that prohibit certain forms of discrimination allow for the recovery of attorney’s fees if the plaintiff prevails in the case. For example, if you bring a unlawful discrimination case under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Government Code § 12940 et seq., the statute allows a prevailing plaintiff to collect attorney’s fees.
If you believe that you may have been subjected to unlawful discrimination, and you live in the Los Angeles or Orange County area, there are many good employment law firms that you can contact. Fortunately, some of the best discrimination attorneys in Los Angeles
will consult with you for free to determine whether they can take your case on a contingency basis. Remember, a good wrongful termination case can be worth substantial money depending on the facts. Many wrongful termination attorneys who practice in the Los Angeles and Orange County area have won seven figure verdicts in wrongful termination cases. Before retaining a wrongful termination attorney always research the attorney to find out their past record of success.