Harassment lawsuits are not cheap, and this is why most employers prefer out-of-court settlements to save them the time and expenses of having to defend their employment practice before a jury or the court of public opinion.
The United States Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, the body mandated with enforcing employment laws, records over 15,000 workplace harassment cases every year, and approximately 10% of those claims end up settled.
The average amount recovered per case, however, will vary from one case to another and will also be much dependent on whether or not the case reached trial. Of all the cases, the ones that reach trial and are successfully litigated by the victims usually end up with relatively larger settlements compared to those settled out-of-court.
How the amount of settlement is determined
There is no exact science or formula on how the pain and suffering suffered by the victim of harassment can be quantified in monetary terms. As such, there is no fixed way of determining how settlements in harassment lawsuits are determined.
Many factors are taken into consideration when determining the amount. In most cases, some of the commonly considered factors include:
- Lost wages – if the victim has been earning $70,000 and had to stop working due to the harassment, they can sue for this amount. And if they have been out of employment for more than two years as a result of the harassment, they may also sue for a three year’s salary.
- The cost of therapy and medical bills if any.
- Pain and suffering due to the harassment – there is no fixed amount to this, but will mostly be around the same amount as the victim’s annual salary.
- Any other expenses incurred because of the harassment.
With all the above factors constant, there are certain types of harassment lawsuits that tend to translate into higher payouts than the rest. For example, egregious cases such as those involving groping or assault with robust and compelling evidence such as texts, phone or email records will always result in higher settlements.
Some lawyers, however, will try to give an estimation of the settlement amount based on their chances of winning a monetary judgment following the trial.
What about the case of the wealthy and the famous?
Things tend to be a bit different if the accused is wealthy or famous, like the case of O’Reilly and Weinstein which is still fresh in most people’s minds. Such people typically have no problem in paying higher settlement amounts to buy the victim’s silence.
O’Reilly, for instance, paid a massive $32 million in settlements while Weinstein paid between $80,000 and $150,000 to most of the women who accused him of sexual harassment.
Just to clear things up, in the case of sexual harassment, a sexual harassment lawsuit must be directed at companies and not individuals, under the federal laws. Companies are therefore the entities responsible for paying the settlements.
However, state laws vary and when the cases are solved out of courts – such as the case of O’Reilly and Weinstein – such individuals may be free to go around the company sort their mess on their own.