What Is The Value Of My Claim For Wrongful Termination Against My Employer In New Jersey?
The worth of your claim for wrongful termination against your employer in New Jersey varies depending on the statute or statutes under which you’re suing, among other factors.
Monetary Damages Recoverable for Wrongful Termination — In General
To estimate your economic damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit, you must compute your total annual compensation (including salary, bonus, commissions, and employee benefits) from the employment position you lost. Unless you utilize an expert witness, this computation will likely require you to estimate the value of some of your lost employee benefits, and to make assumptions about future salary increases, discretionary bonuses, and commissions.
Once you compute your total annual compensation, you multiply that amount by the number of years you were out of work and, if applicable, the number of years you reasonably anticipate you will remain unemployed.
In making these computations, you must take into account your duty to make all reasonable efforts to mitigate your monetary damages by finding another job. You should also bear in mind any likely raises or other changes to your compensation package.
If you’ve already found another job that has the same or greater compensation than the job you lost, then your economic damages end when you begin that job. Until you obtain such equivalent or higher-paying employment, you must deduct, from your monetary damages, any wages that you earned after you were fired, unless you can prove that you would have earned those additional wages even if you had not been fired. For example, you need not subtract, from your money damages, income from a second job that you held before you were discharged.
Emotional distress damages may be more challenging to predict than economic damages, because they are unique to the person. In computing emotional distress damages, a jury does not use any mathematical formula or equation. However, in New Jersey, emotional distress awards in employment lawsuits tend to range between $50,000 and $150,000.
Circumstances that would make an emotional distress damages award worth $150,000 or more include a diagnosed medical condition caused by the wrongful firing or workplace harassment, such as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or serious personal harm caused by being terminated. Examples of such serious personal harm could include a divorce caused by the stress of losing your employment, or losing your house because of your loss of earned income.
Punitive damages may be awarded in certain employment law cases to punish your former employer. However, punitive damages are reserved for a relatively small percentage of lawsuits in which the employer’s actions were “especially egregious.”
Consequently, in forecasting the value of employment lawsuits, it is hard to give too much, if any, importance to punitive damages unless the facts are extreme and conscience-shocking. That said, when punitive damages are awarded, they may be multiple times higher than your actual damages, subject to constitutional limits.
Punitive damages recoverable, for wrongful discharge, under particular New Jersey statutes are further discussed below.
If you prevail at trial in most discriminatory discharge and retaliatory discharge lawsuits in New Jersey, your former employer will likely be required to reimburse you for your reasonable attorney’s fees. This computation is based on what you would have paid to your attorney if you had paid by the hour. These legal fees, as well as your out-of-pocket costs and expenses in prosecuting the lawsuit, are part of your potential verdict at trial.
Monetary Damages Recoverable, For Wrongful Termination, Under Particular Statutes
For an explanation of the monetary damages recoverable, for wrongful termination, under particular federal statutes, see this author’s article entitled “What Is The Value Of My Claim For Wrongful Termination Against My Employer In Manhattan?”
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
The New Jersey statute that most broadly prohibits discrimination or retaliation in employment is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (the “NJLAD”). The NJLAD allows compensatory damages (including back pay, front pay, and emotional distress damages), punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. The unlawful discrimination must be the proximate cause of the damages suffered by the aggrieved party.
Back pay is designed to make complainants whole to the fullest extent possible by restoring them to the status they would have occupied but for the unlawful discrimination. For example, if a female employee is paid less than her male counterpart and is required to perform additional duties, she is entitled to recover back pay for both the wage difference between their salaries and the extra duties she performed.
Where the award of back pay would be too speculative or cannot be supported with reasonable certainty, back pay will be denied. However, because back pay is an equitable remedy, mathematical certainty and exactitude is not required, especially as long as the award is based on a reasonable method of calculation.
Under the NJLAD, front pay may be awarded by the court instead of reinstatement where disharmony and acrimony would result from the plaintiff employee’s return to the workplace. Front pay is limited to a reasonable period required for the plaintiff to reestablish his rightful place in the job market.
Emotional distress damages – that is, damages for pain and suffering — may also be recovered under the NJLAD. Expert testimony is not required; however, damages for future emotional distress must be supported by evidence of permanency. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that objective corroboration is not required either. Nonetheless, the plaintiff employee must demonstrate that there is a substantial basis for compensation. Damages for the stress of litigation are not recoverable.
Not every violation of the NJLAD warrants an award of punitive damages. Punitive damages are to be awarded only in exceptional cases where the defendant’s conduct is especially egregious.
In order to justify an award of punitive damages, there must be actual malice. There must be intentional wrongdoing in the sense of an evil-minded act or an act accompanied by a wanton and willful disregard for the rights of another.
The key to the right to punitive damages is the wrongfulness of the intentional act.
For example, punitive damages have been upheld where employees were targeted for layoff during a reduction in force, then trumped up reasons for their selection were created, and then they were replaced.
An employer may not be liable for punitive damages absent (1) actual participation by upper management; or (2) willful indifference.
In any employment action or proceeding under the NJLAD, the prevailing party may be awarded a reasonable counsel fee. A prevailing party has been described as one who has achieved a substantial portion of the relief it sought; one who has succeeded on any significant portion of the relief it sought.
While the amount of the compensatory damages award may be taken into account in awarding attorneys’ fees, there is no rule that the fees must be less than the compensatory damages.
The New Jersey Family Leave Act
To bring a private cause of action under the New Jersey Family Leave Act (the “NJFLA”), the aggrieved party may either file an administrative complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (the “NJDCR”) or institute a civil action in New Jersey Superior Court.
All remedies provided for in the NJLAD are also available under the NJFLA, including compensatory damages and reinstatement with back pay. Punitive damages are also available under the NJFLA, except in class actions or complaints by the director of the NJDCR, where they may not exceed the lesser of $500,000 or 1% of the defendant’s net worth.
The prevailing party in an NJFLA action may also recover its reasonable attorneys’ fees as part of the assessment of costs, except that an employer may not be awarded attorney’s fees unless the action was brought in bad faith.
Mitigation Of Damages For Wrongful Discharge – In General
A victim of discrimination has a duty to mitigate damages. Mitigation is an affirmative defense and as such, the defendant employer bears the burden of persuasion on this issue.
Punitive Damages For Wrongful Discharge – In General
Under the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act, punitive damages in any action (including NJLAD and NJFLA lawsuits) may be awarded to the plaintiff only if the plaintiff proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that the harm suffered was the result of the defendant’s acts or omissions, and such acts or omissions were actuated by actual malice or accompanied by a wanton and willful disregard of persons who foreseeably might be harmed by those acts or omissions.
Further, the federal constitution places limits on the maximum allowable ratio between punitive damages and actual damages. Generally speaking, a ratio of double-digits — that is, a ratio of ten (or more) to one — between punitive damages and actual damages — will be stricken down as a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
If you are an executive or a professional in the Manhattan City metro area and you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, call Manhattan City Wrongful Termination Lawyer David S. Rich at (201) 740-2828 today.
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