Whether or not you can win your case is only part of what you need to know to make an informed decision about bringing a claim. How much you can recover if you win is at least as important.
In employment cases, the damages you can recover fall into several categories:
Economic damages are those damages that can be easily measured in monetary terms, such as lost wages and benefits, and unpaid overtime. Your ability to earn money in the future is also an economic loss, although it is harder to measure. Experts in labor economics and vocational rehabilitation sometimes testify in personal injury cases to explain what the future is likely to hold for you if you expect to be unemployed or unemployed for a long time. In other cases, judges will take estimate that amount based on their experience in ruling on similar cases.
Noneconomic damages, such as emotional distress, reputation loss, and the inability to fully enjoy life, are available in discrimination and certain other wrongful termination cases, but they are especially difficult to measure. That doesn’t make them any less real, though. We routinely ask juries and judges to put a dollar value on these items, because money is the only way the legal system can compensate you for these damages. But we find that in many cases, judges and juries are somewhat more skeptical about substantial awards for noneconomic damages.
Liquidated damages are awarded by statue in certain kinds of cases where Congress or legislatures have simply decided that judges should not even try to estimate noneconomic damages, but should simply award an amount, up to an amount equal to your economic damages, to compensate for noneconomic losses. Liquidated damages are available in overtime, Family and Medical Leave Act, and age discrimination cases.
Penalties serve a similar function to liquidated damages in claims for wages and compensation under the Colorado Wage Claim Act. They are also intended to deter future violations by the employer.
Punitive damages are also available in discrimination and some wrongful termination cases, and are more directly intended to deter conduct buy employers. Punitive damages are especially hard to prove: in discrimination cases, for example, the employee must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the employer acted with a knowing or reckless disregard for the fact that its conduct violated the law.
While you are generally entitled to recover for the damages caused by losses or harms that your employer was responsible for, you have an obligation to mitigate your damages. Most importantly, if you can’t return to your old job, you must make reasonable efforts to find substitute employment.