When you have experienced discrimination at work that has caused you real harm, you probably have a lot of questions and many deep concerns. You understand that your best chance of success is through retaining a knowledgeable New York employment discrimination lawyer but you worry, “How am I going to pay for all this?”
Fortunately for workers like you, there is good news from Albany. Earlier this month, Governor Hochul signed a bill that expands what you potentially can recover as part of an award in a successful workplace discrimination lawsuit. Under the law as it previously existed, you often couldn’t get an award that covered the cost of your attorney’s fees and the fees charged by your expert witnesses if yours was an employment discrimination action.
That all changed with the new bill that has been signed into law by the governor. Under the amended statute, an award of attorney’s fees and expert witness fees is potentially available in all types of discrimination cases, including workplace discrimination actions.
The Business Council of New York said that the bill was one-sided and “would dramatically and unfairly alter the relationship between a plaintiff and defendant in discrimination cases in New York.” The New York State Bar Association, however, supported the bill, recognizing the bill’s importance in ensuring that harmed individuals have the fullest possible access to the justice system.
This newly signed bill, which becomes effective Feb. 1, 2022, removes what had been, for many people victimized by discrimination on the job, a massive (and sometimes insurmountable) barrier against filing a suit. Now, that barrier is gone and, if you have a strong case, you can breathe easier instead of worrying “how am I going to pay for this?” That can be absolutely essential if you are someone who was wrongfully terminated because of your race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or other protected characteristic, or if you were someone whose workplace conditions were so extreme and horrible that you had no choice but to leave. In both scenarios, you’re out of a job and very likely find yourself lacking the financial security to pay for quality legal representation costing hundreds of dollars per hour.
Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, correctly pointed out that just having broad and robust prohibitions against discrimination is not enough if the people harmed by that discrimination have insurmountable hurdles that block them from ever getting to court. “The pursuit of justice is more than just having rules on the books against discrimination. It is also about ensuring that all New Yorkers have access to our legal system to assert their rights.”
Fees Can Potentially Run in the Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars
To give you an idea of just how substantial this new opportunity can be within a discrimination lawsuit, consider that one major national expert witness directory quoted a median hourly fee for non-medical experts of $245 per hour just for file review and $275 per hour for testimony. If you require a medical expert witness (for example, in a disability discrimination case), that median rate goes up to $350 for reviewing a file and $500 for testimony. As you can plainly see, it would be very easy for the expert witness fees in a case to run well into the tens of thousands of dollars.
An experienced discrimination lawyer’s fees will often be much greater, in part because he/she will put in vastly more hours. Experienced legal counsel may have hourly rates of $350, $450, $550, or more, depending on their skills and backgrounds. If your legal team has invested hundreds of hours in your case, the totality of legal fees could be more than $100,000.
Consider a well-known case about gender discrimination in the venture capital industry. That trial took place in California six years ago and involved a victory for the employer, but it still makes for a useful illustration regarding how high the fees can be. At the trial’s conclusion, the court awarded the employer the sum of $250,000 for fees accrued by its attorneys. In arguments about the fees award, the attorneys argued that they had actually put in more than $900,000 worth of work.
If you’ve been the victim of discrimination or harassment at work, don’t let outside forces like potential costs and paying for your legal representation scare you away from pursuing your rights. Get in touch with the knowledgeable New York employment discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates to find out all the options that exist for you. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today. Set up a free and confidential consultation right away to find out how we can get started helping you.