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One of the first questions federal employees who believe they have been discriminated against often ask me as an experienced federal employment discrimination attorney, is how much they stand to receive in damages and what kind of damages are available.

Although these are pertinent questions, it isn’t easy to give straightforward answers given the complexity of the compensation equation.

Understanding damages for discrimination claims requires considerable research and there is a lot of misinformation out there among Federal employees.

For example, many Federal employees believe damages for discrimination are capped at $300,000. This is not true. Many employees are not aware of the fact that certain categories of damages are not capped.

When you are involved in a discrimination case it can be an emotive time for you and your family. It’s very easy to lose sight of the basics that can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful case.

There are two important rules of thumb to consider:

  • You need to prove that the remedy you seek is connected to the discrimination. For example, if discrimination leads to illness the agency may be liable for all medical costs linked to that illness. It won’t be liable for medical costs that are not the result of the discrimination.
  • You will also need to “prove-up” your damages to the Judge, and also to Federal agencies in settlement discussions. In other words you will need to submit evidence of damages from reliable and trustworthy sources as well their connection to the discrimination.

Generally there are four categories of damages in relation to discrimination claims.

  1. Actual Compensatory Damages (not capped) – These damages are direct out of pocket losses as a result of the discrimination you have suffered such as medical bills.
  2. Equitable Relief – This is a non-financial form of damages. After a finding of discrimination, EEOC often orders that the agency publically post notice of its finding of discrimination. It may order the agency to retrain you or its managers. You may be given a different job or transferred to another location.
  3. Non-Pecuniary Compensatory Damages (capped) – Non-Pecuniary damages can be hard for an EEOC or MSPB judge to quantify because they don’t come with a receipt to fix the dollar amount to. These are the damages that are capped at $300,000. They include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium and loss of enjoyment in life.
  4. Attorneys’ Fees and Costs – You will normally be able to recover your attorneys’ actual hourly rate and costs when there is a finding of discrimination. You should make sure not to overlook cost such as consultation fees, even if you did not retain an attorney.

This is a brief overview of the general categories of compensation available and should not be taken to constitute legal advice. If you are a Federal employee, and would like to speak with an attorney about potential damages available to you in the EEOC complaint process, you should contact a federal employment attorney.

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Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative.

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