Punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees are available in most types of employment cases. Punitive damages punish the defendant-employer. To recover these damages, you must prove that your employer acted “with malice or with reckless indifference.” In other words, the employer intentionally discriminated or retaliated against you. In 2008, a former FedEx employee received a punitive damages award of $100,000 because the employer denied his requests for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In determining the reasonableness of a punitive damages award, the court generally considers the: (1) degree of reprehensibility of the employer’s conduct, (2) disparity between harm suffered and damage award, and (3) difference between damages awarded in your case and comparable cases.
Please note that there may be a cap on the amount of punitive damages you can recover. This depends on the specific law that you claim your employer violated. The caps are contingent on the number of people employed by the employer. Under Title VII, punitive and compensatory damages (emotional distress, etc.) are capped at $300,000 for an employer with more than 500 employees. If you are a federal employee suing an agency then you cannot seek punitive damages.
To recover attorney’s fees, you must win your case. Typically, that means you succeeded on a “significant issue” in the case and obtained some of the relief you requested, which “materially alters the legal relationship between the parties.”