Study Shows Plaintiffs in Employment Cases Win at Trial More Often than Not

Two Des Moines lawyers, Karin Johnson and Angela Morales, recently wrote in The Iowa Lawyer about a study their firm conducted of employment law trials in Iowa.    With the exception of one county (out of 99), there is very little data available to lawyers on trial outcomes in this state, particularly in employment cases.    I commend Karin and Angela for their work, and particularly for sharing some of it with the rest of the bar. I expect the study will be frequently relied upon by lawyers, both plaintiff and defense, in evaluating their cases.

Some of the most interesting information from the study includes the following:

·          The study was based upon 134 bench and jury trials between 2000 and 2011, in both state and federal courts.   Included in the sample were claims involving wrongful discharge, discrimination, and harassment.   More unusual types of claims, such as whistleblower, wage claims, and ERISA ,claims were excluded.

·          It is not clear whether the 134 cases includes each and every employment cases tried in Iowa during the period in question, although the goal of the study was presumably to capture every case.   134 trials jury trial in eleven years is a fairly low incidence of trials, but nonetheless seems consistent with statistics showing most cases get resolved in ways other than by trial.

·          Most interesting was that the plaintiff prevailed 57 percent of the time.

·          Damages awarded ranged from a low of $3,000 to a high of $3 million. If the outlying awards (those over $1 million) were eliminated, the average damage award was $179,000.

·          In those cases where emotional distress damages were awarded, a vast majority of the time (two-thirds) the award was less than $100,000.

·          Punitive damages were awarded in less than half the cases.

·          The study focused on awards by a fact-finder (judge or jury) and did not consider any reductions in awards post-trial, application of damages caps, or reversals on appeal.  Nor did the awards consider other remedies awarded by the judge post-trial, such as front pay or attorney's fees. 

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