What are the remedies for discrimination?

If your employer discriminates against you, what remedies are you entitled to? How much can you recover from your employer?

Wronged employees can recover damages in several ways: back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, or punitive damages. They can also be reinstated. In Texas, the default rule is that an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason. This is called employment-at-will. However, certain federal and state statutes place limitations on the employment-at-will doctrine by prohibiting employment discrimination, preventing employers from basing their employment decisions—hiring, firing, promoting, and paying—on an employee belonging to a protected class.

Protected classes are listed in various statutes. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin. The American with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability. Similarly, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects employees over the age of 40 from discrimination.

If an employee proves in court that his employer either intentionally discriminated against him or had employment practices that had a disparate impact on him, he can sue his employer for employment discrimination. But, what remedy is he entitled to if he wins? Wronged employees can recover damages in several ways: back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, or punitive damages. They can also be reinstated.

Back Pay

An employee who is unlawfully discriminated against is entitled to receive back pay. Back pay is the wages the employee would have received if the unlawful discrimination had not occurred and is calculated from the day the unlawful discrimination started to the day of a jury verdict.

Take, for example, an employee who is paid a salary of $400 per week and is fired due to her race. The time from her being fired to the time the jury returns a verdict in her favor is one month. Therefore, she is entitled to receive back pay of $1,600 ($400 * 4 weeks).

Reinstatement and Front Pay

A court can also order an employer to give a wronged employee his job back—this is called reinstatement. However, if reinstatement is not practical, then the employee is entitled to front pay.

Front pay compensates an employee for lost future wages and benefits. Because it looks toward the future, front pay is not perfectly accurate. It is calculated from the day the court enters judgment in favor of the employee to the day the employee finds another job opportunity that puts him in a rightful place.

Take, for example, an employee who is paid a salary of $400 per week and is fired due to her race. The time from the court entering judgment in favor and to the time she is hired for the same job (same salary, same title, same responsibilities) at another company is one month. Therefore, she is entitled to receive front pay of $1,600 ($400 * 4 weeks).

However, the front pay period will not extend indefinitely. A wronged employee has a duty to mitigate damages—to minimize the amount of front pay—by seeking a job opportunity that will put her in her rightful place.

Compensatory Damages

An employee who has been discriminated against may also be able to receive damages for emotional or mental distress resulting from the intentional discrimination. To recover these non-pecuniary damages an employee must show an injury to his mental state such as sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, or a nervous breakdown.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are damages that are not meant to compensate the employee for any injury he suffered. Instead, they are intended to punish employers for their discriminatory practices. To recover punitive damages, an employee must show that the employer acted with malice or reckless indifference in discriminating against the employee.