Average Sexual Harassment Settlement in California

Sexual harassment is a significant problem in California. In a 2019 survey of 500 Californians, 86% of women surveyed and 53% of men surveyed reported experiencing sexual harassment.

Fortunately, more people are breaking their silence and filing complaints against their harassers. If you are one of these survivors, the team of experienced California sexual harassment attorneys at Boucher LLP can help you sue those who are responsible.

While every case is unique, many sexual harassment lawsuits are settled before going to trial. You may have followed some of the high-profile cases in the news and wondered what the average sexual harassment settlement is in California. This article will provide you with some insight. 

What Are the Steps to Reach a Settlement?

If someone sexually harasses you at work, your first step should be to talk to your supervisor, the human resources department, or your harasser’s supervisor. Though all employers should have anti-harassment policies, we know reporting harassment does not always solve the problem. 

Raising the issue of sexual harassment can be awkward and intimidating. If you are not ready to face it alone, contact an attorney experienced in handling sexual harassment cases for help. At Boucher LLP, we know the law and the process and can help guide you through it.

An attorney can also help you with the next step, which is filing a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Though you do not need to have an attorney represent you during this process, your attorney can help you decide if it is best to have the DFEH address your complaint or if you should immediately request a right-to-sue notice, so you can file a lawsuit to better protect your rights. 

If you end up filing a lawsuit in court, both sides will start what’s called discovery. This involves collecting witness statements, sexual harassment policies, medical records, wage and benefit information, and other evidence from relevant parties and witnesses.

At any time during the case, the parties can informally discuss the settlement. In addition, the judge will schedule a settlement conference to see if the parties can settle the case. Some cases even settle after the trial has started. 

What Does a California Sexual Harassment Settlement Involve?

A settlement involves both sides agreeing not to further pursue legal claims against each other in exchange for some amount of money or certain actions (e.g. reinstating the employee to a former job).

It’s important to understand that once you settle the case, you dismiss the lawsuit. You will not get your day in court, but sometimes it is still the best route because jury trials can be inherently risky and unpredictable. 

How Much Will I Receive in a Sexual Harassment Settlement in California?

Because each case is so unique, it is not particularly helpful to provide an average California sexual harassment settlement amount. The total settlement recovery varies greatly based on a number of factors, including those detailed below. 

How Many People You Sue

If you sue only your harasser, the settlement amount likely will be less than if you also sue your employer. 

You may also find that several people in your organization suffered sexual harassment by the same person or as a result of the same flawed policy. If you all sue jointly in a class action, any resulting settlement could be much larger because it involves more people and a bigger, more egregious, problem. 

The Egregiousness of the Harassment 

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors, or unwanted sexual advances. The harasser typically creates a hostile work environment or is looking for a quid pro quo.

The quid pro quo scenario involves someone offering job benefits in exchange for sexual contact or threatening negative job-related consequences if deprived of sexual contact. Because this type of harassment often results in significant career harm and emotional distress, the settlement amount for these claims may be higher.

The Amount of Potential Damages and Fees

In deciding whether to settle a case, both sides will assess the strengths and weaknesses of their cases. Part of this analysis is evaluating the likelihood that the plaintiff will receive various forms of damages. 

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages come in two varieties: economic and non-economic. 

Economic damages include actual costs such as:

  • Back pay—the wages, bonuses, benefits, raises, vacation pay, or profit-sharing you would have earned from the time of the negative employment action up to the date of the judgment or settlement;
  • Front pay—the wage loss you likely will suffer from the date of the judgment or settlement into the future if you can’t be reinstated into your job; and
  • Medical expenses—costs for medical and psychological treatment.

It’s important to consider that the law looks at your effort to mitigate (lessen) your damages. For example, California courts expect you to make a good faith effort to look for another job in the same or similar field to mitigate your wage loss.

Noneconomic damages compensate you for the pain and suffering you experienced. This may include things like post-traumatic stress, damage to your reputation, anxiety, and humiliation.

All these factors affect California sexual harassment settlements. If you have documented proof of significant compensatory damages, your settlement likely will be higher. Further, the defendants will offer more money to settle if they know a jury will find your story and the trauma you suffered as a result compelling. 

Punitive Damages

In cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly malicious, you might also receive an award of punitive damages. There is no cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in California sexual harassment cases. 

Federal law caps compensatory (front pay and noneconomic damages) and punitive damages based on the defendant’s number of employees: 

  • For employers with 15-100 employees, the limit is $50,000,
  • For employers with 101-200 employees, the limit is $100,000,
  • For employers with 201-500 employees, the limit is $200,000, and
  • For employers with more than 500 employees, the limit is $300,000.

If it becomes apparent during the case that you have a good chance of proving at trial that you are entitled to punitive damages, the defendants likely will offer more to settle.

Attorney Fees and Costs

If you go to trial and win your sexual harassment case, the court may award you attorney fees and costs. This means the other side will have to pay the attorney fees and costs your lawyer reasonably incurred in handling your case.

For this reason, attorney fees are another factor taken into account when deciding on a settlement amount. Your lawyer will have to put in a lot of hours to prepare for and present your case at trial. So how close you are to trial can increase the amount required to settle the case.

Why Choose Boucher LLP?

The team of sexual harassment attorneys at Boucher LLP focuses on representing individuals seeking justice and compensation for the sexual harassment they suffered and the lasting impact it had on them. We know you have been through a traumatic experience. That’s why we want to hold your harasser, and whoever put him or her in a position of power, accountable. 

Sometimes the best way to change the system that allowed this to happen is to make the person or entity feel the financial pain of their actions. We have recovered millions for our clients through trials and settlements. More importantly, we helped them take back their lives. When you are ready for help taking action against your harasser, contact Boucher LLP.