Damages in Sexual Harassment Claims

Coming forward with a sexual harassment claim is about more than just financial compensation. Holding a harasser accountable can help you move forward and improve the safety of your workplace and community. However, the compensation that you receive can also go a long way toward helping you pay your bills and move forward after a tragic sexual harassment incident. The following are types of financial compensation, referred to as damages, that are often available in sexual harassment claims.

Back Pay

Many sexual harassment cases involve income losses suffered by the victim. A target of California workplace sexual harassment may feel too uncomfortable or unsafe in a hostile work environment to go to work or may need to take time off for mental health purposes, medical care and therapy. In other cases, victims of sexual harassment lose wages from being terminated from their jobs as a form of retaliation for filing complaints. Either way, if sexual harassment results in lost wages, the victim is eligible for back pay.

Back pay refers to wages and employment benefits lost from the date of an adverse employment decision to the date that a jury awards a verdict in a sexual harassment lawsuit. It can include:

  • Any wages you would have received
  • Bonuses, tips or commissions
  • Raises or promotions
  • Employment benefits, such as a health plan
  • Retirement benefits or a pension plan
  • Paid time off or vacation time benefits
  • Company stock options

Back pay may be awarded if you lost your job because of sexual harassment or retaliation. Federal law limits back pay to two years prior to the date that the charge was filed. However, state law may award back pay for a longer period. It is important to note that if you fail to make a good faith effort to obtain a different job after being terminated (known as “mitigating your losses”), this could reduce the amount of back pay for which you are eligible.

Front Pay

Another type of lost wage damages is front pay. This makes up for your foreseeable lost wages between the time that your sexual harassment case is settled and when your job (or a similar position) is reinstated. Most victims of sexual harassment have the right to job reinstatement, meaning they can return to the positions they held before termination. If you don’t want job reinstatement for any reason, you can receive front pay instead. This remedy is meant to make you as near as possible to being whole again by paying for future lost wages while you search for a similar job.

Medical or Therapy Expenses

If sexual harassment resulted in medical bills, including the costs of anxiety or depression medications, therapy or counseling sessions, and medical treatments for physical illnesses or injuries, you could be eligible for compensation to pay for these costs. You may need to show proof of these expenses and their connection to the sexual harassment.

Pain and Suffering

Some sexual harassment judgments include an amount for pain and suffering. This is a broad term that can include physical pain, emotional distress and psychological harm connected to sexual harassment or a hostile work environment. You may be entitled to damages for these intangible losses, including any future foreseeable psychological damage.

Punitive Damages

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are awarded to punish an employer or defendant, such as for failing to prevent or properly respond to sexual harassment. They are generally only awarded when a victim suffers great harm at the hands of the harasser or employer, such as through particularly malicious, egregious or grossly negligent acts. Punitive damages can pay for lawyer’s fees as well as provide extra compensation for the victim. 

If you’re curious about the potential value of your sexual harassment claim, contact an attorney for an in-depth case review.