I blogged recently about some of the basic issues surrounding sexual harassment cases for South Carolina employees. You can read that post here. But the question inevitably arises: Once you file a sexual harassment case, what are your possible damages? In other words, if you can prove that your employer subjected you to sexual harassment or a sexually hostile working environment, then what remedy or relief can you hope to get? What are your damages worth?
Generally in South Carolina, victims of sexual harassment can seek economic and non-economic damages. That means damages from lost wages (economic damages) and damages from emotional distress (non-economic damages). Lost wages are caused by a termination, suspension, or demotion that results from the sexual harassment or retaliation, such as being fired for complaining about the harassment. Some employees are harassed so severely that they feel compelled to quit due to the pervasive nature of the attacks against them (this is called constructive discharge). Lost wages are calculated based on the length of time an employee is out of work and until new employment is found. For example, if you make $50,000 a year and are out of work for six months while diligently job searching, then you would have lost wages of $25,000 (plus lost benefits for an equal period of time).
Emotional distress is a type of damage that applies to most employment discrimination claims. But realistically, it is more commonly awarded by juries in cases of severe harassment, such as use of the n-word in racial harassment cases or in sexual harassment cases. The more severe the harassment, typically the more severe the emotional distress the employee suffers. For sexual harassment cases, instances of unwanted physically touch (also known as assault) are more severe than sexual jokes or comments. Of course, some employees suffer tremendous emotional distress for cases of harassment that don’t involve physical touch, and each case and person (and their personal history) has to be considered individually.
Another factor for emotional distress for sexual harassment claims is whether the employee sought medical or mental health treatment due to the harassment. Medical records and prescriptions for treatment are helpful pieces of evidence to better prove the damaging effects of the harassment.
Finally, the court can award attorney’s fees to an employee’s lawyer, if the case is successful at trial. That means that the employee’s attorney can make the company pay the lawyer for his/her time spent pursuing the case. This can provide an additional remedy to the employee, as well as serving as leverage in any negotiation with the company.
The takeaway here is that the law, though often tilted in favor of the company, does provide a remedy for sexual harassment that South Carolina employees experience. The merit and value of these remedies depend on the severity of the harassment. The goal, however, with any sexual harassment case is not merely the recovery of funds to compensate the victim of sexual harassment, although that is a huge goal of any case. Ultimately, the law provides these remedies to employees in the hopes that the fear of such monetary consequences will encourage companies to provide safe and healthy working environments for all employees.
And when companies fail to do so, here we are.