If you’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace, you can potentially pursue compensation for all the trauma, emotional distress, and work-related losses you’ve suffered. The average sexual harassment settlement of $36,798, according to the EEOC, which looked at 8,147 claims over three years. But this figure can vary a great deal depending on the particulars of your case.
Factors Affecting the Value of a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
The surest way to estimate the value of your lawsuit is to consult with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the factors that influence how much a sexual harassment lawsuit is worth.
Settlements vs Court Ordered Payouts
Sexual harassment cases are often resolved out of court with a settlement payment. While the average settlement is under $37,000, another study found that when harassment lawsuits go to trial, the average payout increases to $217,000.
This considerable difference is partly because cases that are deemed severe are more likely to require a court trial to prove. A lawyer will also sometimes recommend a court trial when their client may win punitive damages: additional damages designed to punish a defendant guilty of particularly bad behavior.
Beware of Accepting a Settlement Too Soon
It is also unfortunately the case that many victims are willing to accept a lower settlement offer than they might have received with proper legal guidance. These victims wish to avoid the hassle and stress of a court case and put it all behind them as quickly as possible, which is quite understandable.
But accepting a settlement offer too soon often means leaving money on the table. It’s almost always advisable to have an attorney negotiate a higher settlement for you.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment
When a higher-up at work offers a promotion, bonus, raise, or any other preferential treatment in exchange for sexual favors, it’s known as quid pro quo harassment. This kind of harassment often results in higher settlement payouts than when the victim suffers no tangible work-related loss as a result of the unwanted sexual advances.
Sexual harassment claims with multiple plaintiffs also tend to win higher payouts. One reason for this is that multiple victims filing a class action lawsuit are generally more believable to juries and can often provide more evidence than a single plaintiff acting alone.
Class action lawsuits are also more likely to attract the attention of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And any sexual harassment case with the EEOC involved is likely to win a higher settlement figure.
The Benefits of Hiring a Lawyer
A very important factor in determining the size of sexual harassment settlements is whether or not the plaintiff hires a lawyer or law firm. As with any personal injury claim, this factor alone frequently makes a significant difference.
An experienced workplace harassment attorney understands the law and has dealt with many other similar sexual harassment lawsuits. Harassment attorneys are experts at negotiating with insurance companies to achieve the best possible outcome.
Your lawyer can calculate the full damages you’re entitled to receive under federal law. They can take over all communication with the defendant and insurance company, negotiate effectively, and advise you as to the advantages and disadvantages of taking your case to court.
Calculating The Value of Your Claim
The value of any harassment case also depends on the sexual harassment damages you’re seeking. Damages are the money that state law and federal law permits a victim to recover from the defendant. In a harassment case, damages include back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and legal fees.
Almost every sexual harassment claim will see the plaintiff seek back pay damages. You may be entitled to recover any wage loss or other financial loss you’ve suffered since the date of harassment until the case is resolved.
Back pay damages cover lost wages from a missed promotion or lost position. Back pay also includes lost commissions, bonuses, sick pay, vacation pay, retirement or pension benefits, health insurance, stock options, and any other work-related loss.
The plaintiff can typically seek to recover back pay damages for up to two years prior to the lawsuit filing date. So if you want to maximize your back pay, it’s important to act before this deadline is up.
If you left your job because of sexual harassment, the law requires that your former employer rehire you in your former position. This law holds whether you were fired or quit because of the hostile work environment.
But if the experience has made the workplace intolerable, it may no longer be feasible to return to the same job. In this case, you may seek front-pay damages, which are designed to cover the wage loss you’re likely to suffer from the date of the settlement into the future.
Front pay may cover all your estimated wages lost and other work-related financial losses while you try to find a similar job. Front pay takes into account how long you would probably have stayed at your former workplace if you hadn’t been harassed and various other factors.
A Good Faith Effort Is Required To Find Work
When considering both back pay and front pay damages, the judge and jury will note if the plaintiff is making a good-faith effort to find a similar job. After filing a lawsuit, rather than staying deliberately unemployed and thereby accruing additional back pay and front pay damages, the victim is expected to search diligently for a new position.
Compensatory and Punitive Damages
In addition to back pay and front pay damages, you can also seek to recover compensatory and punitive damages. Sometimes these damages make up a significant portion of a sexual harassment settlement offer.
Sexual harassment cases often cause a great deal of emotional distress and reputational damage. The victim is entitled to seek financial compensation for such pain and suffering. Your attorney will be able to determine how much compensation you might seek to recover for these kinds of non-economic damages.
You may also seek compensation for any costs incurred as a result of the harassment. This might include career counseling fees, job search costs, medical bills, and therapy expenses.
As previously mentioned, in addition to damages for pain and suffering and emotional upset, the court may also award punitive damages to punish your employer for particularly bad behavior. Behavior deserving of punitive damages might include reckless indifference: upper management or human resources being aware of the illegal sexual harassment but doing nothing about it.
Federal Law Caps on Punitive and Compensatory Damages
The total amount of damages that can be awarded for punitive and compensatory damages is capped by federal law. This cap depends on the size of the company.
The limit is $50,000 for companies with 15 to 100 employees, $100,000 for employers with 101 to 200 employees, and $200,000 for companies with 201 to 500 employees. And companies with over 500 employees have these damages capped at $300,000.
When a sexual harassment case is won, the plaintiff might also have their legal fees covered by the defendant. This may include court fees, filing fees, expert witness fees, and attorney’s fees.
Most sexual harassment attorneys charge on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only take their fee from the final settlement payout when it’s won. So if the court’s final judgment awards damages for your legal expenses, it means the overall settlement will be increased to cover the lawyer’s fees and other legal costs accrued.
What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?
Harassing behavior includes unwelcome sexual advances, visual harassment, and inappropriate physical conduct (short of physical assault, which escalates the case to a criminal offense). Verbal harassment, including comments of a sexual nature and offensive remarks about a person’s sex or sexual orientation, may also constitute harassment.
The law allows for a degree of mild teasing and offhand comments. But someone is considered sexually harassed when this kind of behavior results in a negative employment decision and lost wages or when it creates a hostile work environment.
If you need highly skilled legal representation in your sexual harassment case, contact Contact Holman Schiavone, LLC for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys can negotiate on your behalf, represent you in court, and fight tirelessly to win the fair compensation you deserve.