Many potential clients want to know what damages they can collect if they win a lawsuit for workplace discrimination or harassment. New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination permits a successful plaintiff/employee to be awarded compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, and costs of suit. The ultimate damages you will be entitled to will be determined by a court and a jury, based on the facts of your case.
The first type of damages that might be available are compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are provided to plaintiffs in order to make them "whole" for their loss. Compensatory damages are limited to back pay, front pay and emotional distress damages.
Back pay is a measure of the wages, benefits, bonus, and commissions that you lost due to the illegal harassment or discrimination by your former employer. Any back pay you will be entitled to is reduced by the amount of money that you received after being terminated by the employer. This is known as "mitigation." You are legally required to try to mitigate your damages (for example, by finding a new job). Back pay is calculated based on the compensation lost from the date you were terminated until the date the court rules in your favor.
Front pay is intended to cover the amount of compensation you won't earn in the future as a result of your employer's actions. For example, if you were making $80,000 at your previous job where you suffered discrimination or harassment, and your new position pays you $60,000, you might be awarded front pay of $20,000 per year, subject to your continued efforts to try to earn more. Front pay awards are calculated based on the amount of time the court determines it will take you to get back to your previous earning level.
Emotional distress damages compensate you for any pain and suffering caused by your former employer's harassment or discrimination and the termination of your employment. The damages for emotional distress is determined on a case-by-case basis. It is extremely difficult to predict the amount of emotional distress you may receive from the court. It could range from $0 to $500,000, depending on the facts.
Punitive damages may be awarded if you are able to demonstrate that the discrimination or harassing employer acted maliciously. Punitive damages are intended to punish the employer and deter other employers from engaging in the same type of behavior. The court must rule that the employer intentionally discriminated or harassed you with malice or demonstrated reckless indifference to the harassment and discrimination in order to award punitive damages.
You are also entitled to attorney fees and costs if you prevail in your harassment or discrimination case. Your attorney' fees and costs will be paid by the defendant employer if you prevail and the court finds that the employer is liable. Plaintiff's lawyers often are retained on a contingent fee basis, which means they are paid only if you win the case. If you have a contingent fee arrangement, you will never be billed for the time spent by the attorneys. However, your attorney will keep their time and the attorney's time will be billed to the employer and paid as part of the damages.