Sexual harassment cases can get complicated, and the costs can add up quickly. Just how quickly can depend on the facts in your case and how many steps you have to take to get it resolved. If you can work it out with your employer and without a lawyer, the only cost is your time and energy. There's no fee to file with the EEOC, either.
But if you decide you need a lawyer for either of these steps, you will have to pay him or her. And if you need to file a lawsuit, you face any number of additional costs.
Your lawyer's fees can be the biggest costs in your case. But an experienced lawyer can be worth it to get the settlement and closure you deserve.
You'll most likely want to talk with several lawyers before deciding who to hire. Often this initial consultation will be free. But some attorneys do charge a fee for consultations. Depending on their rates and how many you talk with, it could cost you several hundred dollars just to find a lawyer.
For the actual work on your case, the fee arrangement can vary.
Many sexual harassment lawyers work at an hourly rate. These rates can vary by where you live and the lawyer's experience. Someone with a reputation for winning cases can, and often will, charge more.
When working for an hourly fee, many lawyers will require an upfront payment called a retainer. They will then pay themselves out of this account (with your approval) until it is gone. You will then have to make another lump sum payment or start paying monthly.
Others will work on contingency. This means you pay a percentage of your settlement to your lawyer. Your contract may include two different percentages, one if you settle out of court and a higher percentage if you go to trial. In general, expect the fees to be in the 20-40 percent range. Again, a highly experienced lawyer with a high rate of wins may charge a higher percentage than a less experienced one. If you lose, your lawyer gets nothing.
You may also be able to arrange a kind of cross between the two. You give your lawyer a retainer to get started with your case and then agree on a contingency fee. If you win, the amount of the retainer is subtracted from the contingency fee. If you lose, your lawyer keeps whatever you have already paid.
The appropriate fee arrangement for you can depend on what you are trying to do and the facts in your case. For example, helping you with your EEOC filing might require a different arrangement than suing for damages.
In addition to fees for the lead attorney on your case, you may also have to pay for time spent by junior attorneys and/or paralegals doing legal research or other preparation for your case.
Whenever you file a lawsuit, you have to pay a filing fee. This fee varies by state and district. In general, expect to pay from about $50 up to a few hundred dollars.
You will also have to pay a service fee to have copies of your suit delivered to the defendant(s). Again, fees vary and can depend on whether you use the sheriff's office, a private service provider or if the courts will do it for you.
Depending on your case, you may also need to pay for things like:
You lawyer may pay for these things as they come up and charge you for them later. Even if you have a contingency fee arrangement, these fees are not included in that. If you lose at trial, you will still have to pay these fees.
If you win at trial, the court will often order your employer to pay all or some of your costs, including attorney's fees and/or court costs.
Your lawyer may also bring in outside experts to help with your case. Investigators and expert witnesses can help uncover the true facts in your case and explain how the evidence proves your claim. As with other costs, fees for these experts can vary widely.
The courts may require—or you may want to try—mediation before scheduling your case for trial. If so, you will need a mediator, who may charge rates similar to a lawyer.
Clearly a sexual harassment case can be expensive, especially if it goes all the way to trial. But the costs are not just monetary. It also costs you in time spent and the emotional toll it takes on you. As much as you might want to try to handle it on your own, sometimes getting a lawyer involved early can help get it resolved quicker. That can minimize both monetary and emotional costs.