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Legal and equitable wrongful termination claims

There's a difference in the law between legal claims and equitable claims -- although the two sometimes end up overlapping in certain types of cases.

You're most likely to have a hybrid of the two types if your lawsuit involves an employment-related issue, something like discrimination or wrongful termination.

The goals are very different between equitable and legal lawsuits, however:

  1. Legal claims ask the court to judge plaintiffs losses and compensate them for those losses. Plaintiffs may ask for "hard" damages, like lost wages, and "soft" damages like pain and suffering or humiliation and stress.
  2. Equitable claims ask the court to provide relief through an injunction. Injunctions are court orders that require the defendant to either do something specific or stop doing something that he or she has been doing.

Employers inclined to discriminate or act in a retaliatory manner usually victimize more than one employee over time. A plaintiff who has the courage to stand up to the employer and file a wrongful termination lawsuit may hope to both recover his or her own financial losses and change things in a positive way for others. An injunction can accomplish that second part of the goal.

For example, imagine the company manager "invited" all the employees to pray with him at the company's holiday party. You didn't bow your head or pray along with the others. Your manager seemed irked and asked why you didn't join the prayer and you told him you're an atheist. You're abruptly terminated a week later, and you know it is due to your religious beliefs. That makes it an unlawful dismissal -- so you file a lawsuit.

In your lawsuit, you make a legal claim for your lost wages, the damage to your career, other financial losses and your emotional pain.

However, you also make an equitable claim and ask the court to issue an injunction that will prevent the manager from asking employees to pray with him at company events from that point forward.

Your equitable goal doesn't benefit you directly -- but it does benefit others. Equitable claims often have a strong social impact because they send a message to other employers about what is and isn't acceptable in the workplace.

Source: FindLaw, "What is the Difference Between a Legal and Equitable Claim?," accessed Dec. 15, 2017

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