Settling a discrimination lawsuit is never easy. The employee and employer both have to develop some understanding of evidentiary issues, personnel issues and employment caselaw within a very short amount of time. I have discussed settlement before, here, and here. The client must also come to some understanding of the opposing side and how they view the case.
In dealing with employees, some, a very small percentage come into the process with high expectations based on everything from spilled coffee cases to personal injury lawsuits with mega-million verdicts. These clients will tell me with a straight face that they want to be reasonable and not greedy, so $1 million or $100,000 is very reasonable. They need the money to pay medical bills, past due mortgage payments, etc.
But, discrimination lawsuits are not personal injury lawsuits. We cannot seek amounts for medical bills or overdue mortgage payments. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prescribes what we can ask for: lost pay and benefits, compensatory damages (emotional suffering), punitive damages and costs of prosecuting the lawsuit. So, it really is a non-starter to ask for a higher amount to "cover medical bills." The employer will not respond to that sort of a settlement demand. The employer wants to deal in reality, not a wish list.
The employer is typically very upset they even have to even hire a lawyer. "I know Joe [Manager]. He is not sexist," many employers say. They believe every lawsuit is frivolous. So, why would someone with that view consider amounts based on personal need and not on actual value of the lawsuit? Why would an employer consider damages to which the employee is not entitled? Even making a request not grounded in reality reinforces the employer’s preconception that the lawsuit is frivolous.
A client told me once that they were sure they could obtain a larger amount. I could not dissuade him, so "fine," I thought, "let’s try an amount based on personal need, not on reality." Sure enough, two weeks later, the employer refuses to respond to an offer ten times what an average jury would award. The emloyer simply declined to make a counter-offer. The employee was shocked at the lack of response. I was not. Would anyone buy a used car for ten times the blue book value?
It is the lawyer’s job to educate clients. We are the guide through a complicated process. But, some clients do not want a guide. They think they know, already. To those clients, I eventually say, "well, then you do not need me . . . ."