I am a California attorney and not eligible to give legal advice in your state. My comments are for information only, based on federal law and general legal principles. YOUR STATE MAY HAVE ITS OWN LAWS THAT PROVIDE SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. If I refer to your state's laws, that only means I did a quick Internet search and found something that appeared relevant. You should not rely on any comment I make regarding your state's law. You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state.
The answer to your questions will turn on specific facts. The Avvo board is not really set up to handle the kind of detailed analysis that is needed in your situation. Avvo works best for short, specific questions that allow for short, specific answers. Perhaps more importantly, anyone can read the discussions on Avvo so they are not confidential. The employer or whomever is involved in the dispute with can read everything written here.
You were there long enough, and the age difference is great enough, for you to present your facts to one or more experienced plaintiffs employment attorneys to see if you have a valid claim. To find a plaintiffs employment attorney in your area, please go to the web site of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA). NELA is the largest and most influential bar association in the country for attorneys who represent working people. The web site is www.nela.org, and you can search for attorneys by location and practice area.
Also, NELA has affiliates in every state and in many cities. On the NELA web site, you can look at the list of affiliates. Some attorneys will be listed in the affiliate membership list, some in the national organization membership list, and some in both. Being listed in one or both lists should not influence your selection because attorneys can choose whether or not to purchase the listing in the national directory. Each local 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. ***
You do need to take the time and make the effort to consult with an employment attorney. After 17 years, you need to sit down with someone good and ask every question and consider every potential option. And I hope that the facts of your case will support a sound claim -- the situation is terribly offensive. But, to be frank, I am troubled by the fact that the person you "worked for" passed away. The absence of that person could be the critical fact in this scenario. Be very discriminating about who you consult with and move on this consultation effort immediately. The window for initiating action can be very brief.
My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.
If the death of an attorney dissolved a partnership, that alone could cause difficulty with your case. I would follow the above advice and consult with a lawyer experienced in labor matters. You may have trouble finding a lawyer in the same town who would litigate, since lawyers often have cooperative and referral relationships. And, you may want to consider employment strategy in this scenario unless you are close to retirement. Suing your employer could cause difficulty in finding employment with another firm. Good luck.
And, keep your door open to offers to return. The lawyers may wise up to the inefficiencies of their "buddies" in time. But given their current attitude, maybe other firms would be a better fit. Lots to consider.
DISCLAIMER: The forgoing comment is for general educational purposes only, and is not legal advice upon which the reader may rely as the commenter has no actual knowledge of the facts of the case, has not interviewed persons or examined evidence, and has not researched the applicable law. The comment is based only on the facts provided, which are extremely limited, and may or may not be true. Complete defenses may prevent the success of any claim. Competent legal advice should always be obtained before taking any legal action or filing suit. Readers employ any information provided herein at their own risk.