What Damages can be Obtained in an Employment Lawsuit?
Damages potentially recoverable in employment lawsuits can include back pay and front pay, emotional distress damages, attorney fees and costs, equitable relief and other potential damages available under the legal claim. However, the specific types of damages recoverable in an employment lawsuit will always depend on the specific legal claim or claims asserted by the employee against the employer.
Back pay and front pay damages are common in most employment lawsuits. Back pay and front pay damages are measured by the amount an employee would have earned but for the employer’s unlawful conduct. Some, but not all employment laws also provide for emotional distress damages should the employee suffer from emotionally because of the unlawful termination or other conduct. Punitive damages, which are damages assessed to punish the employer’s conduct, are available in many employment lawsuits, including in most discrimination and retaliation claims. Some employment laws allow employees to recover additional penalty damages, which include liquidated damages and treble (triple) damages against their former employer. Many employment law causes of action include reimbursement of the employee’s reasonable attorney fees and costs of suit if the employee prevails in the lawsuit. To determine specifically what damages are available to an aggrieved employee in an employment lawsuit, it is important to consult with an experienced New Jersey employment lawyer who can provide advice concerning the damages recoverable by the employee caused by the employer’s violations of the employment law.
There are specific types of damages recoverable for each cause of action. Many employees have several causes of action against an employer for violations of law. The damages recoverable are spelled in the statute or common law interpreting the cause of action including the Law Against Discrimination, Conscientious Employee Protection Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, New Jersey Family Leave Act and Wage Payment Law.Law Against Discrimination
One of the more commonly used statutes for employment claims is the Law Against Discrimination. Damages recoverable under the Law Against Discrimination include back pay and front pay damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. The Law Against Discrimination recognizes the personal hardships caused by the unlawful discrimination and delineates such damages as including “economic loss; time loss; physical and emotional stress; and in some cases severe emotional trauma, illness, homelessness or other irreparable harm resulting from the strain of employment controversies; relocation, search and moving difficulties; anxiety caused by lack of information, uncertainty, and resultant planning difficulty; career, education, family and social disruption; and adjustment problems.”
In 2018, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination was amended to adopt what is known as Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act. For violations under the Equal Pay Act, including unlawful pay practices prohibited under subsection (r) of N.J.S.A. 10:5-12 and the anti-retaliation section under subsection (t) of N.J.S.A. 10:5-12, an employer shall be liable to pay three times any monetary damage to person or persons aggrieved by the violation.
The Law Against Discrimination also provides aggrieved persons the ability to pursue equitable relief, including job reinstatement and requiring the employer to take preventive corrective and remedial actions so that future violations of the law do not occur.Conscientious Employee Protection Act
New Jersey’s “whistleblower” statute prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees (and some independent contractors) who disclose, object to and/or refuse to participate in certain actions that the person reasonably believes to be illegal or in violation of public policy. Damages recoverable under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) include back pay, front pay, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. CEPA also provides for an aggrieved employee to obtain equitable relief, including job reinstatement and requiring the employer to take preventive corrective and remedial actions so that future violations of the law do not occur.Family and Medical Leave Act
The federal Family and Medical Act (“FMLA”) provides employees with protected leave from work for up to twelve (12) weeks for qualifying events, which include to recover from a serious health condition, provide care to a family member who is suffering from a serious health condition, to give birth or to care for a newborn. It also contains other specific provisions for protected leave to military family members. Damages recoverable for violations of the FMLA include back pay, front pay, liquidated damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. Liquidated damages are calculated under the FMLA in an amount equal to the wages, salary, employment benefits or other compensation denied or lost, and interest because of the FMLA violation. Liquidated damages are to be awarded by the court unless the employer can show that its violation of the FMLA was made in good faith and the employer had objective reasonable grounds to believe it did not violate the FMLA. Emotional distress damages and punitive damages are not available under the FMLA.New Jersey Family Leave Act
The New Jersey Family Leave Act is similar to FMLA, but does not provide any protected leave to employees who need to take leave from work as a result of their own serious health conditions but instead it provides for protected leave from work for employees to care for family members experiencing a serious health or medical condition. There are also different qualification and eligibility requirements. Damages available under the New Jersey Family Leave Act are the same as those available under the Law Against Discrimination, except punitive damages, which are also available under the New Jersey Family Leave Act with a cap of an amount not to exceed $10,000.Wage Payment Law
The New Jersey Wage Payment Act sets forth the required time, manner and mode of payment. The Wage Payment Act was amended in 2019 to increase the damages recoverable by an aggrieved employee and to provide for stiffer penalties to employers who violate the statute. Aggrieved employees under the statute are entitled to damages of the unpaid wages and liquidated damages in an amount equal to two (2) times the amount of the unpaid wages. Employers who violate the Wage Payment law are also responsible to pay the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the employee and can also be subjected to other monetary fines and possible imprisonment.Conclusion
There are many other federal, state and local employment related laws that may provide similar or different damages than those available under LAD, CEPA, FMLA, NJFLA and Wage Payment law. Damages available for employment claims can also significantly differ depending on the facts of the case and the specific claims brought by the employee against the employer. If you believe that you or a family member has been subjected to an unlawful employment decision or action of an employer, it is imperative that you seek advice and counsel from an experienced New Jersey employment lawyer who can assist you in determining your legal rights and pursue the right legal claims for the highest possible recovery of damages.