One of the most common questions I get when representation begins is, “So, what is our goal? What can I ask for, and what can I reasonably expect to get?”
It’s an important topic to talk about. You need to know what your options are, and it’s best to know them up front. It is difficult to predict the actual outcome in the beginning. There are so many variables, and most of them become clear only as the case progresses. For example, key variables affecting case outcomes can include (a) the actual witness testimony, (b) the documents, (c) the judge assigned to the case, based on the judge’s known history in ruling on prior similar matters, (d) the law firm chosen to represent the company, (e) your actual and predicted future losses and (f) the known or unknown motives the company may have to settle or to fight. There are many other variables as well. In fact, there are so many that I cannot list them all here. They bear directly on the outcome but are not fully known until we are well into the process.
But we can at least outline in general terms the kinds of relief you can ask for, based on the claims you have, and based on the laws that govern them. Common forms of compensation include awards for:
- Income you’ve lost as the result of being fired, from being demoted, or from losing a promotion
- Increased expenses, such as out-of-pocket medical costs that would have been covered by insurance
- Income losses you’ll suffer into the future
- emotional distress from the discriminatory practices you suffered
- the attorneys’ fees and court costs associated with your case
- “punitive damages,” which are a form of compensation specifically intended to punish the company
Other kinds of relief you might be eligible to receive that aren’t monetary can include:
- Reinstatement to your old job, if you were fired or demoted
- promotion, if you lost out on an opportunity
- the sealing of disciplinary documents that were the result of discrimination
- an agreement by the company to give you positive job references
- non-disparagement clauses, where the company agrees not to say anything bad about you
- an agreement to modify official personnel records to show that you resigned instead of being fired
It’s important to know what you’re eligible to ask for and, of course, to know what relief you can realistically expect to receive. Whether a case ends by negotiated agreement in mediation (a formal day for discussion about settlement) or by a trial in a courtroom also plays a role in what is possible and what is not.
If you’re not sure, ask. Have this conversation early. It’s a great way to make sure your expectations are in line with an outcome that can be achieved. Every case is different. The subject of possible outcomes should be an ongoing and active topic of conversation as well, since the strengths and weaknesses of a particular case can change sharply as new information is developed.
I’ve outlined the most common forms of relief above, but whether you are eligible for them in your case will depend on many factors. The law(s) supporting your claim will play a major role, too. For example, the kind of relief you can get from an employer in the private sector may be different from what you could get from a public-sector/government employer. Wage and hour laws, age discrimination laws and laws governing employee leave for serious health conditions (such as the FMLA) each have different rules about what a winning employee can recover.
Knowledge is power. Ask what kinds of relief are available in your case, and ask, as to each, what is reasonable to expect (e.g., “What would my lost wages amount to? What are the odds of getting my job back? Can I get my employer to change their records to show that I quit instead of being fired?”).
All these questions have answers. Don’t be shy about asking for them.