If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, you could be entitled to compensation. However, the amount you can receive varies based on factors that affect the viability of your case. In general, the more severe the sexual harassment, the more compensation you could receive. The best way to determine the amount your settlement could be is to consult a sexual harassment lawyer.
The Average Settlement for a Harassment Lawsuit in the Workplace
According to a study conducted on 50 recent workplace harassment cases, the average settlement for those who have been sexually harassed is $53,000. However, those claimants who took their case to court received far larger awards, at an average of more than $217,000. This disparity indicates two possible scenarios. One is that claimants who settle are not settling for enough and should push for higher compensation. The other is that only cases of severe harassment make it to court.
Of course, all cases of harassment are serious, so when we say that only the most “severe” cases end up being tried in front of a jury, we mean that some types of harassment tend to be viewed as worthy of more compensation than others. One type of harassment that is often awarded at higher amounts than others is quid pro quo harassment, which is when a superior trades preferential treatment (promotions, raises, etc.) in exchange for sexual favors.
The duration for which an employee suffered harassment has some impact on the amount of compensation they receive, but not as much as the type of harassment (i.e. quid pro quo). Studies suggest, though, that when multiple plaintiffs join together in class-action harassment lawsuits, the average compensation tends to be higher. This could be because juries are more inclined to believe multiple complaints of harassment over a single complaint, even if that single complaint is strongly supported.
Moreover, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is more likely to get involved with group complaints than with individual complaints. Once the EEOC gets involved, cases settle from almost twice as much as those without EEOC involvement. This may also account for why class action lawsuits fare better in court. However, the criteria for EEOC involvement aren’t clear, so it’s best to consult with a sexual harassment lawyer to make your case as strong as possible.
How to Calculate Potential Harassment Settlements
Compensation for harassment claims in the workplace is notoriously difficult to calculate because you have to prove you suffered losses for which there may be no concrete proof. For example, if you were denied a promotion because you refused to perform sexual favors, it’s up to you and your legal team to prove that you lost a promotion because you were sexually harassed. Your attorney will look at various potential damages when calculating losses.
Back pay consists of the wages and benefits you would have received from the time you were either denied a promotion or a raise or were fired as a result of harassment until the case is settled or a jury determines an award. Back pay may include the following losses.
- Wages, which can include raises you would have received
- Commissions, tips, and bonuses
- The value of benefits like health insurance, life insurance, and even gym memberships
- Sick and vacation pay
- Retirement or pension
- Stock options
- Profit sharing
Federal law typically limits back pay to two years from the lawsuit filing date, but some states may allow you to sue for back pay beyond the two-year federal limit. You are also required to mitigate your damages as much as possible, which means you had to make a good-faith effort to find another job to minimize the amount of wage loss. If you find a new job, your back pay will be reduced by your new salary amount.
According to federal law, if you were fired from your job or quit as a result of harassment, you are entitled to get your job back. However, this option may not be feasible for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the relationship between you and your employer is no longer tenable. In this instance, you may be eligible to receive front pay to compensate you for not having reinstatement as an option.
Front pay is designed to compensate you for wage loss you’re likely to incur from the date of your settlement or award into the future. The date when front pay will end is determined by how long you would have probably stayed at the job had you not been sexually harassed, and how long it’s predicted that it will take you to get hired in a similar position. Your age and average job longevity at the company are also considered.
Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Even if you haven’t suffered any wage loss, you may still be entitled to receive compensatory damages for the emotional stress the harassment caused (also known as pain and suffering), for reputation damage, and for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the harassment (including medical bills and job search fees). Punitive damages may also be awarded if your employer (supervisor, human resources, upper management) knew about the harassment, but did nothing to stop it.
Federal law caps the amount of money that can be awarded for punitive and compensatory damages based on how many employees the company has:
- The limit is $50,000 for employers with 15-100 employees
- The limit is $100,000 for employers with 101-200 employees
- The limit is $200,000 for employers with 201-500 employees
- The limit is $300,000 for employers with more than 500 employees
It is possible that states may have different limits on compensatory and punitive damages, so you may be able to recover more depending on your employer’s location. Hiring an attorney can help you determine how much compensation to demand and which laws apply to your situation.
Federal law limits damages for workplace harassment claims to $300,000, which includes back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. State limits may vary, so check your jurisdiction for caps in your case. If you win your case, you can also have your legal fees covered by the other party, which include your lawyer’s fees, filing fees, and court fees. Your attorney will provide the court with a statement of their fees to ensure they are reasonable.
Hiring a Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Most attorneys who represent employees who have been sexually harassed in the workplace operate on a contingency fee basis. This means that you won’t pay for your legal representation until your case is settled or an award is determined. Once the case is over, your attorney will receive a percentage of your total compensation to cover their fees and other related costs, including advance payment for medical bills and expert services such as witnesses, investigators, and financial professionals.
As a victim of workplace harassment, you deserve representation that protects your rights. However, there are strict timelines for taking action against an employer for harassment, and if you miss your deadlines, you won’t ever be eligible for compensation. Contact Holman Schiavone, LLC today to learn how our expert employment attorneys can help you recover damages to compensate for your losses.