Of those workers in Wisconsin who file discrimination complaints without an attorney, most have no idea how much a fair settlement value would be for their case. And how should they? For nearly every employee complainant, this is their first legal complaint, and they have no familiarity with the legal process, with what sorts of awards can be won, or with what typical settlement ranges are.
So I can’t blame any employee for not knowing what their case could be “worth”- that’s a very difficult thing for a non-attorney to get experience with or solid information about.
However, an employee who does not have an idea of his or her case’s value will often make mistakes that cause their case not to be settled, and litigation to be prolonged (and the case possibly lost).
In my experience, employees who do not have an accurate idea of what their case is worth will tend to highly overassess the worth. This overassessment is not usually based on the law, but rather based on the employees’ “gut” feeling of how much the employer should pay, based on how unfair the employer’s conduct was.
It is not uncommon for an employee complainant to assume that his case could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or several years’ worth of severance pay, when in fact his specific case has legal and practical limitations that make his case worth far, far less than what he thinks. (Now, there are a few employment discrimination cases out there that are in fact worth hundreds of dollars in damages, but those are the vast minority of cases).
Often, as a result, employees who have these wrong assumptions will: (1) make settlement offers that are way too high, often higher than legal damages/award maximums; (2) cause the employer to feel the employee is completely unreasonable, and stop engaging in any further settlement talks.
You don’t want to block yourself out of a reasonable settlement offer because you are asking for the moon and don’t know it.
On the other hand (although less common), some employees will significantly underassess the value of their case. For example, an employee may focus on the value of a discrimination claim and not know that she in fact has a potential claim for unpaid overtime wages that has strongly supportive evidence and is worth far more in damages/monies than the discrimination claim being pursued.
This is where attorneys can help. Employment law attorneys who have worked on and evaluated many discrimination claims can provide a thorough legal analysis of what your specific case may be worth, and whether your analysis may be missing any important factors. The attorney’s assessed value may be much lower than what you want to hear- or maybe higher, to your pleasant surprise- but either way, it’s best to get all surprises removed from the equation as early as possible.
Here is a post that discusses “Things to Consider Before Filing a Discrimination Complaint at the Wisconsin ERD or EEOC,” including information about valuing an employee’s Wisconsin discrimination case. That post, and this one, are for general information only. Again, if you want a specific evaluation of your own discrimination case’s value, you should consult with an employment attorney to get a complete assessment.