Many of my discrimination clients go into settlement talks with the expectation they will receive enough in settlement to retire. No, not hardly. Most cases settle for less than $30,000. Settlement discussions are supposed to reflect the reality of jury verdicts. And, the reality of jury verdicts is that even when the plaintiff employee wins, s/he is only awarded the amount of their lost income. Most folks obtain a new job after a discriminatory termination. So, the lost income is relatively modest. And, juries usually do *not* award damages for emotional suffering. If they do award such damages, they typically award an amount based on the lost income.
A couple of years ago, a local state district court jury returned a verdict of $20,000 in lost income and $18,000 in compensatory damages. Many jury verdicts come back for less than $30,000. A couple of weeks ago, a jury in San Antonio federal court awarded some $29,000 in lost wages in a wage case. These smaller verdicts do not appear on the front page of the local newspaper. But, they occur regularly.
I worked for a state district judge in rural Louisiana many years ago. Judge Jackson was known as a fair judge, someone who did not particularly favor plaintiff or defendant. He had tried more cases in his lifetime than some entire law firms. He used to say many times, "the worst settlement is better than the best trial." He meant that any negotiated agreement was better than risking one’s future on a jury trial. Juries are difficult to predict, probably impossible to predict. I tell many clients they would get better odds in Las Vegas than with a jury. Judges can also be very unpredictable. My former judge meant that parties should accept whatever halfway reasonable agreement they could reach. Anything would be better than relying on a jury, he believed.
Many discrimination cases that go to trial reach that point because the employer offered nothing to settle the case. Many million dollar cases were offered nothing to settle the case. Most discrimination cases that go to trial do so because they have to. If the plaintiff is offered nothing, then s/he has nothing to lose at trial. A client once told me during settlement discussions that she was sure the jury would do the right thing in her case – meaning she should hold out for a higher settlement amount. I responded less kindly than I should have. But, I did tell her she was the only one who was sure of that.