People considering an employment lawsuit often wonder: what damages are recoverable in a wrongful termination lawsuit? While the amount of damages available in any particular lawsuit varies, the types of damages available can typically be divided into three separate categories:
- Economic Damages
- Non-Economic Damages
- Punitive Damages
Economic damages are basically money the employee should have received but did not because of the wrongful conduct (things like lost salary) and/or money the employee had to pay out of pocket as a result of the wrongful conduct (things like medical bills). In an employment case, economic damages are generally calculated as the amount of salary and benefits the employee would have received minus whatever the employee actually did receive through alternate employment.
So, for example, if someone had a $50,000 per year salary and benefits of $10,000 per year, the total compensation package was $60,000 per year. If the employee were wrongfully terminated and didn’t find a job with the same compensation package for 6 months, their economic damages are $30,000. (If the replacement job were lower paying, the damages would continue into the future.) Economic damages are recoverable for both past loss (losses that have already occurred) and future loss (losses in the future that are reasonably certain to occur). These damages can be easily calculated and often, expert witnesses like economists are used to calculate wage losses and future wage losses.
Non-economic damages are generally emotional distress, pain and suffering or other emotional or physical injuries rather than money-based injuries. In employment cases, non-economic damages can be awarded for things such as the inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation and/or emotional distress that result from the illegal conduct. Non-economic damages are harder to calculate and are frequently proven through the use of experts such as doctors, psychiatrists and/or psychologists. There is no standard or method of calculating these damages – they vary by individual and case.
Punitive damages are designed not to compensate the employee, but rather to punish the defendant employer and deter similar behavior in the future. These damages exist because the employer’s actions were so base or wanton that we as a society want to ensure that such behavior is not repeated in the future. Think of it as teaching a bully a lesson. Actions that give rise to punitive damages can be described as despicable, malicious, oppressive or fraudulent.
In addition to these three general categories of damages, in certain employment related cases, an employee who prevails on his or her claim may be entitled to recover his or her attorney fees from the employer. Every case is different and unique and to get an idea of what type of damages are available in each case requires careful consideration of the above categories of damages.