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Explainer: Emotional distress damages in employment discrimination cases

Both federal and Wisconsin law prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, disabilities, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation and national origin. A recent Forbes column by employment law attorney Eric Bachman stated that in these cases, "the most obvious form of damages is lost pay if the employee is forced to leave the company."

However, those who have suffered on-the-job discrimination can also pursue emotional distress damages.

Some of the harms in these cases include diagnosed conditions such as depression or anxiety disorder, sleeplessness, loss of enjoyment of life, strained relationships with family or friends, as well as damage to a person's reputation.

Proving emotional distress to a court is typically done in these ways:

  • The employee - as well as family, friends and coworkers - testify about the discrimination's psychological impact
  • A physician, psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health therapist testifies about the psychological impact

Bachman points out that cases involving higher damages usually include testimony at trial from a doctor or mental health professional to testify about diagnoses of depression, anxiety or related conditions, as well as medications prescribed for treatment.

Sometimes an expert witness is brought in to explain to the court the emotional harm discrimination causes.

Juries then try to determine the severity and duration of the discrimination, as well as the severity and duration of the distress.

Finally, Maryland attorney Bachman writes that it's important for employees pursuing emotional distress damages to understand that their mental health will be a central part of the case. Employers' lawyers are likely to argue that the distress was caused by factors outside of work (divorce, a death in the family, etc.). They can also try to use past medical history to argue that depression or anxiety conditions predate any on-the-job discrimination.

The first step for an employee who has suffered workplace discrimination is to contact an experienced employment law attorney. In Milwaukee, contact the law office of Alan C. Olson and Associates. 

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