What Is the Average Settlement for a Discrimination Lawsuit?

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An employee consoling his colleague discriminated by a team.

Each and every one of us is unique. That’s a simple and undeniable truth. No two people anywhere in the world are exactly alike. Though this is true, and though we are all unique in our own ways, we all also have many things in common – among them, the need to feel accepted, valued, and appreciated for who we are and what we contribute to the world. Certainly, we want to feel this way in all aspects of our lives. Without question, for many of us, that includes the place where we are employed and where we spend a large majority of our time each day. No one wants to feel as if they are being discriminated against or devalued at work simply because of who they are. Unfortunately, this does happen – it happens at workplaces every day, across the country.

In some unfortunate cases, workplace discrimination is severe and prolonged enough to cause the employee to choose to file a lawsuit to seek justice for the harm that has been done. Without question, seeking the justice that is deserved is an important and worthy pursuit.

Often, when our clients are contemplating filing an employment discrimination lawsuit, they have many questions – and this is understandable. One of the most common questions we are asked is, “How much is my lawsuit worth?” Certainly, this is an entirely reasonable question and one that deserves a thorough answer. After all, entering into a lawsuit can often be a stressful process, even in the most ideal of circumstances. Often, potential plaintiffs want to know if entering into a stressful situation of this nature, with all of the time and expense that it might involve, is worth it.

The Scoop on Settlement

While wanting to know the “average” amount that a discrimination lawsuit might settle for is certainly a reasonable question, it is also one that may be somewhat difficult to answer with any amount of absolute certainty with respect to any one particular case. After all, just as each plaintiff is unique, each set of circumstances that leads a potential plaintiff to consider filing a lawsuit is unique as well. The goal of any lawsuit is, of course, to try to make the victim of the discrimination “whole” – at least to the extent that it is possible to do so.

Nevertheless, there are certain factors that your attorney may consider in helping you to place an estimated value on your case. Some of these factors include:

  • The Type of Case: Generally, “employment discrimination” is a broad category. Depending upon the type of discrimination involved, however, different types of damages may or may not be available. For example, if an employee files a discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they might be able to recover punitive damages (damages that are essentially awarded to “punish” an employer for committing an act of discrimination). However, a discrimination case filed for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act might not allow for that possibility and may only provide for the possibility of compensatory damages (damages intended to compensate victims for expenses incurred as a result of the discrimination – such as lost wages, costs associated with the search for another job, medical expenses, and the like).
  • The Employer: Certainly, the identity of the employer itself will also make a difference in the amount likely to be recovered in a particular case. Some employers, for example, tend to be more litigation-oriented and less inclined to settle a case, while others are more inclined to make settlement offers fairly quickly. Additionally, the larger an employer is in terms of size, the greater the chances are that a larger settlement is likely. On the other side of the coin, if the employer is very small or not very financially profitable, the chances of a significant settlement are much lower.
  • Jurisdiction: The jurisdiction or particular state and court in which a case is filed may also make a significant difference in the amount of any potential award or settlement. This is because different states have different laws, some of which are more friendly to employees than others. You may live in a state that is very employer-friendly and does not provide grounds for many wrongful discharge claims, while other states lean more toward employee-friendly laws, which would allow for the possibility of greater recoveries and settlement amounts.

Keeping these different factors in mind, it is often difficult to determine a true “average” amount of settlement for a discrimination lawsuit or any specific amount that is “typically” received in a settlement. In saying this, however, it should be noted that there are certain statutory limits for employment discrimination lawsuits filed at the federal level, which vary based upon the size of the employer involved. At the federal level, the court can award up to:

  • $50,000 to an employee if the employer has between 15 and 100 employees,
  • $100,000 if the employer has 101 to 200 employees,
  • $200,000 if the employer has 201 to 500 employees, and
  • $300,000 if the employer has more than 500 employees.

While these are statutory guidelines that courts will follow in issuing awards, and while they may serve as benchmarks or guidelines in settlement negotiations, ultimately, settlement negotiations are between the employee, the employer, and their respective attorneys. Consulting with your attorney regarding the details of your particular situation and the value your claim may have is, therefore, always an important step to take prior to filing any lawsuit.

What Is the Most Effective Way to Recover Remedies? 

Because each discrimination case is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all resolution for claims. If you do not have the time, finances, or slam-dunk evidence to engage in drawn-out and unpredictable litigation, you might opt for a settlement. But if your evidence is hard to refute and you can handle the stress of a trial or hearing, waiting for a court to award damages might be your best option. 

When it comes to enforcing your rights against an employer, there is also strength in numbers. If enough of your coworkers have experienced discriminatory mistreatment at the hands of your boss, you can join together in a class-action lawsuit. In a class-action lawsuit, a representative is chosen to handle the claims of you and your fellow employees, and you can pool resources with co-claimants to help ensure a better outcome at trial. You might also be able to recover a class-action lawsuit settlement. 

Which of these options is best for you? The answer to this question depends on your specific circumstances, and this question should be addressed by an experienced employment attorney. 

Where Does Maryland Stand?

We mentioned above that the value of your workplace discrimination settlement depends partly on your jurisdiction. So, what does that mean for individuals who work in Maryland? Fortunately, Maryland’s employment laws are more employee-friendly than federal and some other states’ laws. 

Harassment Claims Are Easier to Maintain Under Maryland Law

The following federal laws take workplace harassment very seriously:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act; and 
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

However, proving you have a right to recover damages in a federal harassment complaint or lawsuit can be challenging if there was not a demand that you endure the harassment in exchange for work benefits (i.e., quid pro quo harassment). 

If the harassment you suffer at work is not quid pro quo harassment, it probably falls under the hostile work environment harassment category. Under federal law, a victim of hostile work environment harassment can recover damages or remedies only if the harassment is unwelcome and so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would call the victim’s workplace abusive or hostile. Proving that harassment was pervasive or severe can be quite the hurdle to clear in legal action.

Now, take a look at Maryland’s definition of actionable, hostile work environment harassment. Maryland law defines hostile work environment harassment as “unwelcome and offensive conduct, which need not be severe or pervasive, when . . . the conduct is based on race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” This definition removes an element (namely, pervasive and severe) that is challenging for many harassment victims to prove. Also, an employer must have at least 15 employees before a sexual harassment victim can initiate a federal claim, but a victim can file a complaint in Maryland even if their employer has only one employee. 

Maryland’s CROWN Act Expands the Definition of Race-based Discrimination 

The differences in hair texture between racial groups should not dictate a job candidate’s employability or an employee’s work benefits. Maryland law acknowledges this. Under Maryland’s CROWN Act, unlawful race discrimination includes unequal treatment of an employee or applicant because they possess a hair texture or hairstyle associated with their racial background. This type of legislation has yet to pass on a federal level.

COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Sick employee still working in office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the lives of many people. And while all of us are at risk of catching the disease, the mortality rates among the elderly and those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions are particularly high. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest numbers, 89.5% of the deaths in the United States, attributed to COVID-19, are victims who were 55 years old and above. In addition, the CDC considers employees who have the following conditions to be at a higher risk of mortality should they contract the disease:

  • Asthma,
  • Chronic Kidney Disease,
  • Chronic Lung Disease,
  • Diabetes,
  • Hemoglobin Disorders,
  • Immunocompromisation,
  • Liver Disease,
  • Serious Heart Conditions,
  • Serious Obesity.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees with disabilities from being unfairly terminated. If you have a disability that puts you at greater risk of death from contracting the COVID-19 disease, then you have the right to not endanger yourself by returning to an unsafe working environment. 

If you have been discriminated against or terminated because of your disability or inability to return to work, if you have been denied accommodations because you are in a high-risk category, or if you have been retaliated against because you have requested special accommodations or spoken on social media about needing a safer working environment, contact us immediately!

Call Smithey Law Group LLC Today

If you believe that you may have valid grounds for an employment discrimination lawsuit, or if you have any other labor or employment matters for which you believe you need legal representation, we would encourage you to give Smithey Law Group LLC, a call today. Our attorneys are well versed and knowledgeable in all of the complex legal matters that our clients may encounter. We are proud of our track record of successfully representing countless clients in their employment and labor matters, and would be honored to have the opportunity to serve you, too. Give us a call today – we look forward to speaking with you soon.

Author Photo
Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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