Proving a claim for compensatory damages at the EEOC

Proving you were subjected to discrimination or retaliation is only the first step in obtaining relief. Once you have proven your case, it is critical to present evidence of your non-pecuniary damages for your mental pain and suffering. Non-pecuniary compensatory damages are one of the main ways that the EEOC can compensate you for an agency’s discriminatory actions. While having a doctor or other expert testify about your damages can be helpful, it is not necessary. The EEOC has stated that it focuses on three main factors in determining an award of non-pecuniary compensatory damages: (1) duration of harm; (2) extent of harm; and (3) consistency with amounts awarded in similar cases.

With respect to the duration of the harm, the focus is on the length of time that a complainant suffered from the harm, and not the duration of an agency’s discriminatory or retaliatory actions. The EEOC has explicitly noted that a complainant who has suffered from severe depression for one year has obviously endured more damage than a complainant who has suffered severe depression for two months. EEOC Notice No. N915.002 (July 14, 1992). Indeed, if you have subjected to a discriminatory action, for example sexual harassment, the impact of that will likely last long after the sexual harassment has ceased. In evaluating a claim for compensatory damages, the EEOC looks at the length of the period that a complaint has suffered and/or is likely to continue suffering harm as a result of an agency’s discriminatory actions. A doctor’s prognosis that the harm is likely to a certain amount of time into the future can be considered as evidence of the ongoing harm. It is also helpful to establish the time periods you have experienced different symptoms as a result of the discrimination or retaliation as not all symptoms are experienced for the same duration.

The severity or extent of the harm suffered by a complainant also impacts the award of compensatory damages. The EEOC has explained that the extent, nature, and severity of harm must be considered when determining an award for non-pecuniary damages. See Glockner v. Dep’t of Veterans Aff., EEOC No. 07A30105 (Sept. 23, 2004). EEOC cases explore how severe the harm was, and whether the harm was persistent and long-lasting, or transitory or intermittent. As the EEOC’s “Enforcement Guidance” puts it, when determining extent of harm, “consider, for example, whether the harm consisted of occasional sleeplessness, or a nervous breakdown resulting in years of psychotherapy.” This factor focuses on the individual symptoms experienced and the severity of each of those symptoms.

A diagnosis of anxiety or depression or other similar condition, or a exacerbation of a pre-existing diagnosis, would support an award of damages. But with or without a medical diagnosis, other types of harm also support an award of compensatory damages. Frequently observed symptoms of stress and/or anxiety in these types of cases are stress related physical ailments (such as headaches or stomach ailments), weight gain/loss, shortened tempers, frequent tearfulness or crying, panic attacks, distancing oneself from friends and family, sleeplessness, nightmares, and decreased energy. The details of how often you experience such symptoms or how severe the symptoms are can also impact an award. Testimony by friends and family about the observable changes in behavior can bolster a complainant’s testimony and further support an award for damages.

KPWH’s attorneys are experienced at developing cases in support of compensatory damages and helping you articulate the full extent of harm you have experienced as a result of discrimination, retaliation, and/or harassment. For a free consultation about your case, please contact us.