Damages In Employment Law

When an employee sues for discrimination, harassment, because he has been fired, or another reason related to his job, there are different things he can recover for.

California Law

There are some very important differences between California and Federal Law. The discussion here is based on California Law. The ways in which the Federal Law differs is discussed below.

Damages for Breach of Contract

If an employee is fired in violation of an express or implied contract, he may sue only for his lost wages and benefits.

He cannot sue for emotional distress.

He can recover for what he will lose in the future, but these damages only continue for a reasonable time. In other words, if the employee could get a similar job the day after he is fired, his future lost wages and benefits are zero.

Discrimination and Harassment

In California, if the employer has fired the employee (or if the employee has been forced to leave or was never given the job) because of discrimination or harassment, the employee can recover (sue) for the following:

  1. Past lost wages.
  2. Other past benefits. (example: car allowance).
  3. Future Lost Wages and Benefits. (the amount of wages and benefits that will be lost in the future). However, see "Mitigation", below.
  4. General Damages. This includes emotional distress and pain and suffering.
  5. Punitive Damages. This is an amount of money designed to punish the employer and make an example of him.
  6. Attorneys Fees and Costs. This is what the employee spent on lawyers to sue the employer.


The employee who is fired must "mitigate" his damages. This is true whether he is fired for discrimination, harassment, breach of contract, or any other reason.

What this means is that the employee has to try to find another job. He cannot just decide to never work again and have the company pay for it.

The one exception to this is when the company's bad actions make it impossible for the employee to return to work. For example, many sexual harassment victims have trouble going back to work for men. This means that it often takes them longer to find another job. They can still recover damages for their lost wages during the period it takes them to find another job.

If the employee simply cannot find a job, he or she can recover lost wages for this period. However, the employee will be required to show that he or she really tried to find a job, and couldn't.

Federal vs. State Law

Employees can recover under the Federal Title VII Law for everything they can recover under California Law.

However, there are caps on damages in the Federal Law. For example, under no circumstances may an employee recover more than $300,000.00 in a sexual harassment lawsuit. This amount incudes all the types of damages.

In California, the amount the employee may recover is technically unlimited.

It is therefore very important for a potential litigant to consider under which law he or she wishes to proceed.

Further Information