Compensatory and Punitive Damages for Sexual Harassment

You may be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages if your employer is found liable for sexual harassment.

Here are the major categories of damages that you may recover.

Emotional Distress Damages

You may be awarded money damages for emotional distress caused by sexual harassment.
Emotional distress damages are awarded to compensate you for mental pain and suffering as well as any related physical impacts.  These types of harms include:
  • strained relationships with family and friends
  • loss of enjoyment of life and mental anguish
  • anxiety and difficulty sleeping
  • clinical depression
  • post traumatic stress disorder
The amount of damages you may recover for emotional distress depends on the type of evidence you have to support your claim, and the severity of your pain and suffering.
Emotional distress can be proved with your own testimony and the testimony of family members, co-workers, and friends.  In order to recover a large damages award, however, you will need medical evidence.  This may be provided by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor you have consulted for treatment of the emotional distress.  Medical evidence of emotional distress may also be provided by an expert witness and your medical records.

Out-of-Pocket Costs and Reputational Harm

You may recover damages for costs you incurred as a result of sexual harassment such as medical bills for treatment of emotional distress, fees for career counseling, and job search costs.  You may also recover damages for harm to your reputation.

Back Pay Damages

“Back pay” is awarded when you have been fired or forced to resign because of sexual harassment.  It is designed to give you the compensation that you would have been paid if you had not lost your job.

Back pay refers to your total compensation including your salary, bonuses, healthcare benefits, stock options or profit sharing, contributions to retirement plans, vacation pay, and paid time off.  As a general rule, you may recover back pay from the time your claim began until the date of the final judgment in the court case.

You are required to “mitigate” your damages by making a good faith effort to look for another job.  If you fail to look for a new job, you may be denied back pay damages or the amount may be reduced.  If you are successful finding a new job, your back pay damages will be reduced by the compensation you received in your new job.

Back pay may also be awarded if you were denied a raise or a promotion because of sexual harassment.  In that case, you may recover the increase in total compensation that you were denied.

Reinstatement or Front Pay Damages

If you lost your job due to sexual harassment, you may be entitled to be reinstated to the position that you would have held but for the harassment.

In the alternative, you may be awarded “front pay” to compensate you for a reduction or loss of compensation that is expected to continue after the court case is over.  Front pay awards are based on an estimate of how long you would have stayed with your employer in the absence of the sexual harassment compared to what you are projected to earn.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages may be awarded under certain circumstances to punish your employer and to deter future acts of harassment.

In order to win an award of punitive damages, you must prove that your employer acted with malice or reckless indifference to your rights.  This usually requires evidence that your employer was the perpetrator of the sexually harassing conduct, or that your employer was aware of the sexually harassing conduct and did nothing to stop it.

Limits on Damages

New York State and City laws do not place a limit on the amount of damages you may recover for sexual harassment.

Under federal law, the total amount of compensatory and punitive damages you may recover for sexual harassment depends on the size of your employer.  Employers with 15 to 100 employees are not required to pay more than $50,000 in damages.  Employers with 500 or more employees are not require to pay more than $300,000.  The federal cap on damages does not apply, however, to an award of front pay.

Pre-Judgment Interest

You are entitled to interest on the amount of your damages.  For claims under federal law, the interest rate varies from time-to-time and is usually very low.  For claims under New York law, the interest rate is 9% per year.

Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

If you have a strong case, we will represent you on a contingency fee basis.  This means that you will not owe us any legal fees unless you win.  In addition, the court may order your employer to pay the costs of the lawsuit and our legal fees if you win.

Other Types of Claims and Damages

The damages described above apply to claims for violations of the employment laws.  Keep in mind that you may have other claims against your employer or the perpetrator of sexual harassment.  Additional claims include defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Damages for defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress are similar to, but not exactly the same as damages for violations of the employment laws.  There are also other differences.  For example, a claim for defamation must be filed within one year.

To discuss all your possible claims and damages, call us at (212) 601-2728 to schedule a free and confidential consultation