I am a California attorney and cannot give legal advice in your state. My comments are information only, based on federal law and general legal principles. YOUR STATE MAY HAVE ITS OWN LAWS THAT OFFER SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. If I mention your state’s laws, it only means I did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant. You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state to learn your rights.
It sounds like the EEOC is inviting you to mediate. In nearly every case, yes, you need your own attorney. The EEOC is not your representative. A mediator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) www.eeoc.gov has one client – the United States of America. Some EEOC mediators are great and will do their best to protect you rights even though they are not your advocate. Some EEOC mediators stink and care more about closing the case than they care about your rights.
Because the EEOC has a particular mission and because it is not representing you, if it turns out your interests and those of the EEOC clash, the EEOC mediator will first and foremost make sure the agency’s goals are carried out, not yours.
Also, the EEOC will only consider issues relevant to laws the EEOC enforces, such as discrimination laws. It will not consider such things as employer liability under state law (which in some states, like California, is substantially more than under federal law), wage and hour violations, mutuality in the settlement agreement, circumstances under which you might have to return the money, the language of the settlement agreement (which could have all kinds of "gotchas" that the EEOC doesn't notice or doesn't deal with), and more.
In addition, EEOC mediators most often handle low-value cases because that is what ends up in their offices. They handle high-value cases far less frequently, and even less frequently handle high-value cases where the charging party doesn’t have an attorney. If you show up without an attorney, the mediator may interpret your case as low-value, even if it isn’t. Of course the mediator may learn the value of your case during the mediation, but why start off with such a large obstacle?
Similarly, without an attorney, the employer probably won't take you or your case seriously, and may be able to take advantage of you. No one is watching your back if you don't have your own attorney.
Consider that the employer most likely has an attorney or has consulted with its attorney. Even if the employer doesn't have an attorney, it usually has human resources personnel who have been down this route before and know far better than you do how to use the system to its own advantage.
It is nearly always the case that a charging party will do better overall with an attorney, even taking into consideration the attorney's fees portion of the recovery.
Employment law is complicated and fact specific. You may wish to speak with an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney. You can find a plaintiffs employment attorney on the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) web site www.nela.org. NELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the country for attorneys representing working people. You can search by location and practice area. Also, NELA has affiliates in every state and many cities which are listed on the NELA site. Not all NELA attorneys are named on the web site or affiliate site. This should not influence your selection; attorneys can choose whether or not to purchase a listing in the national directory, and each affiliate has its own rules for listing.
I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.
*** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
Settlement negotiation decisions require careful analysis and strategy by an experienced employment attorney. You should definitely seek competent counsel licensed in your state before engaging in any settlement negotiations with the EEOC and your former employer.
As a mediator I always believe that a party should have an attorney familiar with the law and the facts advising whether the parameters of a deal are "fair," whatever that means, to the client based upon the particular circumstances of the case (strength of case, and alternatives to settling, for example).
This advice was intended to be general in nature and not to be taken as a legal opinion or legal advice and was not deemed to create an attorney-client relationship