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How Much is My California Wrongful Termination Claim Worth?

Losing your job can be emotionally and financially difficult under any circumstance. It can be even harder to deal with when wrongfully terminated. While most workers work at will in California, employers can still be liable for wrongful termination when they terminate an employee for illegal reasons or a reason against public policy.

You might be considering pursuing a wrongful termination claim if you were wrongfully terminated. This type of legal case might allow you to recover compensation for your losses. Many people who think about filing a wrongful termination case wonder how much compensation they might receive. The answer to what a wrongful termination case might be worth depends on multiple factors, which will be described below.

What Are Damages in a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?

In a wrongful termination case, damages refer to various types of losses you might incur as a result of being fired. Your damages represent the compensation you might recover to make you whole.

While the compensatory damages can vary, they typically include the following:

  • Back pay to the date of the wrongful termination
  • Front pay from the date of judgment forward if you haven't been able to replace your job
  • Loss of benefits, including health insurance and others
  • Emotional distress
  • Reputational harm
  • Attorney's fees and court costs

Punitive damages, which are meant to punish employers that have engaged in particularly egregious conduct, might sometimes be available. When punitive damages are awarded, they are paid in addition to the compensatory damages.

Compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses are generally straightforward and fairly easy to calculate. Non-economic losses, such as emotional distress and reputational harm, are harder to calculate. An experienced employment law attorney can help you understand the types of damages you might be entitled to receive and how much your claim might be worth.

How Do Damages Affect Your Potential Settlement Value?

The types of damages and their amounts will differ from case to case. Here's a look at how some of the various types of damages might affect the value of your wrongful termination claim.

Effect of Lost Wages

The first factor concerning your lost wages that will affect your settlement value is the salary you earned at your job. If you earned a high salary, your back pay amount will be higher than if your salary was lower. Similarly, if you haven't been able to replace your job, your front pay amount will be greater if your lost salary was higher than if it was lower.

The second factor concerning your lost wages affecting your settlement value is whether you have been able to replace your job. To recover front pay, you must have made reasonable efforts to find a new job with a similar salary and benefits as the one you lost.

If you have been able to replace your position at the same salary or for a higher one, you won't recover front pay. If you have made reasonable efforts and been unable to find a job, you might recover front pay. Finally, if you have made reasonable efforts and found a job that pays less than what you previously earned, you might recover the difference between your former and current salaries as front pay.

Effect of Lost Benefits

If your former job paid certain non-wage benefits, including health insurance, disability insurance, and others, you can recover the value of your lost benefits in addition to lost wages.

Effect of Emotional Distress

Some people experience emotional distress and psychological harm when they are wrongfully fired from their jobs. If you suffered this type of harm and sought psychological counseling, you might be entitled to recover compensation for your counseling and related mental suffering.

Effect of Reputational Harm

Some people suffer damage to their reputations when they are fired from their jobs. If your former employer effectively blackballed you from your industry after firing you, you might recover damages for the reputational harm you suffered.

When Are Punitive Damages Available?

Punitive damages are not available in every case. Instead, they are only awarded in cases in which the employer's conduct was outrageous or egregious. This is because punitive damages are not designed to compensate the plaintiff for their losses and are instead meant to punish the employer and deter them from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

Punitive damages are also not available in a settlement. To get punitive damages, you must take your case to trial and receive a verdict in your favor. It is up to the jury whether to award punitive damages. If a jury decides they are warranted, they determine the amount. While you can't recover punitive damages in a settlement, the possibility that a jury could award them might lead an employer to offer a higher settlement than they otherwise would to avoid a trial.

What Type of Wrongful Termination Claim Do You Have?

The type of wrongful termination case you file can also affect the potential settlement value. For example, if you were fired because you reported your employer's large-scale fraud against the government in a whistleblower action, you could potentially recover a whistleblower award for the money the government can recover on top of your wrongful termination damages, which could be up to several million dollars. By contrast, if you were fired by your employer because of your pregnancy status, your recovery would likely be lower than in a whistleblower complaint.

Should You Settle Your Case or Take it to Trial?

Many people wonder whether they should accept a settlement or take their case to trial. In some cases, trial verdicts can be larger than what you might receive in a settlement. However, taking your case to trial also comes with the risk that you could lose and receive nothing. In many cases, it is in the best interests of both parties to settle cases. This minimizes the risks both you and the defendant face and assures that you will receive compensation for your losses. When you have an experienced attorney representing you, they can negotiate with the defendant to try to secure the most favorable settlement possible for you.

On the other hand, some cases will have to go to trial. For example, if your employer and their insurance company refuse to offer a fair settlement or negotiate in good faith, you might have no other choice than to litigate your case through trial. If you have a particularly strong case with a lot of evidence to support your claim, your attorney might advise you to take a chance at trial. Whenever you receive a settlement offer, your lawyer will notify you and discuss whether it makes sense to accept it, continue negotiating, or take your case to trial.

Do You Have a Lawyer?

Whether you are trying to represent yourself or have hired a lawyer can make a significant difference in the outcome of your wrongful termination case. People who represent themselves are expected to have the same skills and legal knowledge as attorneys. Employers often have aggressive defense lawyers who are prepared to defend against all types of employment claims, including those involving allegations of wrongful termination. If you are unrepresented, you might not understand the tactics defense lawyers use and are less likely to succeed with your case.

You might think that having an attorney will cost too much money. However, employment lawyers typically work for a contingency fee. This means that you don't have to pay attorney's fees upfront, and they only recover their fees if they successfully recover compensation for you. As previously noted, attorney's fees are typically recoverable in wrongful termination claims, so your lawyer's fees should be included in your damages claim.

What Is Your Lawyer's Experience and Reputation?

Your lawyer's experience can also affect your potential wrongful termination settlement. If you have a new lawyer, you might recover less than if your attorney is more experienced. While a new lawyer might be talented, it's generally best not to hire someone who will be learning on the job while representing you. An experienced attorney who has built a reputation in the legal community for recovering compensation for their clients is also likelier to receive higher settlement offers from defense lawyers than someone unknown. This is because the defense attorneys might be concerned about potentially losing at trial to someone with an extensive track record of success.

Consult a Knowledgeable Employment Lawyer

If you think your employer wrongfully fired you in violation of the law or public policy, you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, APC. We have years of experience fighting for the rights of our clients and can help you understand the merits of your case. Call us for a free consultation at 866-966-5240.

Client Reviews
Steve was very attentive and very quickly grasped the essence of my situation. His work and advice was the best I could find and resulted in a very favorable settlement. Can think of no one else in his position that is as informed, knowledgeable, and personable as Steve. He has my highest recommendation. Rich
I would sincerely thank Steven and his team for their professionalism and assistance during our most devastating time. Steven made me feel important, not just as a client but also as a friend. He never failed to inform or update me. Moreover, he was very empathetic and encouraging during this difficult process. He really made a positive difference in our lives. Araceli
All the way through the course of our legal proceedings, we were offered a small amount for settlement. Unsatisfied, we rejected the offer and with the help, the encouragement and the guidance Steven brought to the table were instrumental for us to move forward with the litigation, which eventually led to achieving positive results and a recovery for a much greater amount than what was initially offered. He went above and beyond his call of duty! Desiree