Back pay awards in employment discrimination cases

Tennessee employees who pursue workplace discrimination lawsuits under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act may be awarded damages for back pay if they prevail. Courts award back pay to compensate workers for income that they would and should have received if they had not been discriminated against, and these awards may include unpaid bonuses, vacation pay, pension benefits and health care costs as well as salary. Back pay awards are generally made by federal judges because they are considered a form of equitable relief. Legal relief awards, such as punitive and compensatory damages, are usually determined by juries.

When determining awards for back pay, judges compare the compensation and fringe benefits that workers received with the amounts that they would have obtained absent the discrimination. The time period studied generally runs from the date of the employer's unlawful action until a judgment is entered on behalf of the worker. Workers may be awarded back pay for a period of up to two years before they file workplace discrimination litigation.

Plaintiffs who pursue Title VII claims are expected to mitigate their damages, and employers often argue that awards for back pay should be reduced or eliminated because workers did not take all reasonable steps to find another job or otherwise limit their financial losses. Back pay awards could also be reduced to offset any severance packages or other benefits provided by employers.

Employers often thoroughly investigate workers who file discrimination or harassment claims. This is because evidence of improper conduct may result in reduced damages for back pay. In these situations, back pay may be restricted to the period between the unlawful employment action and the uncovered misconduct. Attorneys with experience in this area may make their clients aware of this and encourage them to behave accordingly.

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