If you’re facing workplace discrimination, know that you’re not alone and you do have rights. The law provides a framework for what individuals can seek as compensation when they have been subjected to unlawful treatment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Employment rights attorneys in Jackson County, Missouri can help you recover everything you’re entitled to so you can get your life back on course.
What Damages Can I Recover in a Workplace Discrimination Case?
Compensatory damages in workplace discrimination cases are designed to make the victim whole. These damages cover a variety of losses, including emotional distress, medical expenses, and lost wages. Emotional distress can include a wide range of psychological impacts, such as anxiety, humiliation, or depression experienced due to discrimination. To calculate these, the court may consider the severity and duration of the distress.
Medical expenses as part of compensatory damages can include costs incurred for counseling or therapy directly related to the discriminatory acts. These are typically proven through bills and statements from healthcare providers.
Lost wages are another significant component of compensatory damages. If discrimination resulted in unjust termination, demotion, or lost opportunities for advancement, victims can recover wages they would have earned had the discrimination not occurred. This calculation includes not only salary but also lost benefits, bonuses, and potential raises.
Punitive damages serve as a punishment to the employer and a deterrent against future discrimination. These are awarded only when it’s shown that the employer’s conduct was especially harmful or egregious. In Missouri, you’ll need to prove malice or reckless indifference to federally protected rights in order for punitive damages to be considered, which is a higher bar than simply proving the discrimination happened.
The amount awarded in punitive damages is not tied to the victim’s losses but also to the employer’s financial status because punitive damages must be significant enough to impact the employer and dissuade similar behavior in the future.
Attorneys’ Fees and Legal Costs
In discrimination cases, plaintiffs are often entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and legal costs if they win. This means that in addition to damages for personal losses, you can recover the costs associated with bringing the lawsuit. This can include filing fees, the cost of depositions, and other expenditures that were necessary to advance the case. Legal costs can mount quickly in complex discrimination cases, and the ability to recover these costs is an important consideration when deciding whether to pursue legal action.
Back Pay and Front Pay
Back pay refers to the wages and benefits an employee lost from the time of the discriminatory act up to the date of judgment. It includes salary, overtime, and any other form of compensation, such as stock options or retirement contributions.
Front pay may be awarded if reinstatement is not possible or practical. This is designed to compensate you for future lost earnings, and is calculated from the judgment date into the future until you can find comparable employment. Determining the amount of front pay involves considering things like your job search efforts, the availability of similar jobs, and the time it may reasonably take for you to secure a new position.
Equitable relief is a non-monetary remedy that can be awarded by the court to rectify the effects of workplace discrimination. This may include your reinstatement to a previous position if you were wrongfully terminated or demoted and want your job back. The court may also order the employer to make policy changes to prevent future discrimination. Equitable relief aims to restore the individual to the position they would have been in had the discrimination not occurred.
Other Things to Know
The Missouri Human Rights Act
Under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), you can bring a case for recovery of actual damages, which include medical expenses and emotional distress, but the Act does cap the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded based on the size of the employer. Whether you sue your employer based on federal law or state law will depend on your case and the advice of your employment rights attorneys in Jackson County, Missouri.
Calculating Damages for Emotional Distress
Calculating damages for emotional distress can be quite difficult. Unlike economic damages, there’s no invoice or receipt to quantify the pain and suffering endured. Instead, the court will look at the intensity and duration of the emotional distress, the presence of physical symptoms like headaches or stomach issues, and how the discrimination has impacted your daily life. Testimony from mental health professionals, as well as from friends and family, can help establish the extent of emotional distress.
Mitigation of Damages
The concept of “mitigation of damages” requires that people take reasonable steps to minimize their own losses. If you were wrongly fired, for example, the court will look to see that you are engaging in a diligent job search or actively seeking medical help and following it to treat your emotional distress. If a plaintiff doesn’t mitigate their damages, the court can reduce the amount of compensation awarded. It’s not enough to merely claim losses; individuals must demonstrate that they’ve actively tried to reduce those losses to the best of their ability.
Tax Implications of Settlements and Awards
It’s important to understand the tax implications of any settlements or awards you may receive. Generally, compensatory damages for physical injuries are not taxable, but compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages are. Lost wages are also subject to taxes just as they would have been if you had earned normally. It’s important to talk with a tax professional to understand the full tax impact of discrimination case settlements or awards.
The Role of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Before pursuing a lawsuit, you must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC investigates the claims and may attempt to mediate a resolution. If the EEOC finds that discrimination occurred and conciliation fails, they may sue on your behalf or issue a “right to sue” letter, which allows you to file a lawsuit in federal or state court. The EEOC’s involvement adds a level of scrutiny and pressure on employers, which can be very helpful in settlement negotiations.
Missouri also offers a state-level avenue for discrimination claims through the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR). Similar to the EEOC, the MCHR investigates discrimination complaints in the workplace. Filing a claim with the MCHR is a prerequisite for filing a discrimination lawsuit under state law. When suing under state law, the caps on damages, procedural requirements, and timelines may differ from federal claims, making it essential to have an experienced lawyer on your side to help you decide the right avenue for compensation.
The Burden of Proof
In any discrimination case, you must be able to establish that discrimination occurred and that it caused the damages being claimed. This includes presenting evidence such as emails, witness testimony, or patterns of behavior by the employer that indicate discriminatory practices. The standard of proof in civil cases, “the preponderance of the evidence,” means that all you must prove is that it’s more likely than not that the discrimination occurred. This is a lower bar than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the requirement in criminal cases.
Work With Skilled Employment Rights Attorneys in Jackson County, Missouri
If you believe you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, contact us at Holman Schiavone, LLC right now for a thorough evaluation of your case and dedicated, experienced representation in your pursuit of justice.