A step by step guide to a lawsuit by an employee against their employer.
Step One: Evaluating an Employee's Case Against Their Employer
Here we discuss the facts of your case, the problems at work, what you know, what you do not know, any documents, possible witnesses, and your concerns about filing a lawsuit. Depending on which problems you have with your employer, the following are a few of the important issues we consider: Who exactly is your employer? Who are your supervisors? In most situations, you will know exactly who your employers and supervisors are, but oftentimes you may have more than one employer and supervisor without realizing it. We then also consider when you were last employed with the company and/or when did the most recent bad conduct occur. If you were fired or wrongfully terminated, you have one year from that date to start the legal process. If you still work for the company, you have one year from the date of the last unlawful harassing or discriminatory act to start the legal process. If you are seeking compensation for unpaid wages, you typically have 3 years since your employment ended to start the legal process, but do not wait because you can only be compensated for a limited amount of time during your employment with the company. Then, we consider how often did "it" happen? How often the harassment or discrimination occur? Just one harassing or discriminatory act from a supervisor can be enough. Or how often you do not receive meal breaks? How often you do not receive rest breaks? How often you do not receive overtime pay? Did you make complaints? How often? Did you keep notes or a diary? How often? Did the company address your concerns? How often? Did your employer retaliate against you? Retaliation occurs all too often after employees stand up for their legal rights and complain. How retaliation occurs can be more complicated than most people realize because there are many ways an employer can retaliate against its employees besides just firing them. If we are considering you as a class representative for unpaid wages we will inform about the meaning of that role, and the duties and obligations you have as a champion for the rights of your co-workers.
Step Two: You Now Have an Employment Lawyer
After we agree to work together on your case, there are deadlines we have to meet to get your case in a court of law. The typical next step is to file a claim with a government agency. When this must be completed depends on the claims you have, the facts of your case, and/or when you were last employed with the company. Once we have completed the process of filing any claims with a government agency, we can now file a lawsuit. The deadlines still depend on the facts of your case. Be informed of these deadlines!
Discovery in an Employment Case
What does discovery mean? In short, it means we work on your case in order to "discover" evidence, in the form of documents and witnesses, so your case has the best chance of winning if a judge or jury ever decides it. The company will probably have their own lawyers and they will want to know about documents and witnesses also, in order to defend themselves. So, how do we do this? Here are a two basic ways: First, is "written discovery" I prepare questions in writing that have to be answered in writing and under oath by the company, while the company's lawyers also do the same for us. When I review these questions, I will need to meet with you, preferably in person, to discuss them with you and give the best, most accurate answers. It is a great chance for us to work together and better understand the strengths and weaknesses in your case. I ask for documents I think will be helpful to support your case. As an experienced employment lawyer, I know which questions and documents are typically important at the beginning of the case and as the case develops. The second form of discovery we use are "Depositions." This is where we ask questions of witnesses in person, with the witness under oath, and a court reporter present to record everything. It typically takes place in a conference room in the offices of either my law firm, or the law firm representing the employer. Attorneys for both the employee and employer are present to ask questions and protect their client. Here are the people that typically get deposed in an employment lawsuit: The Plaintiff (You). When you are deposed, the employer's attorney will ask you questions about your case. Do not worry. I will fully prepare you beforehand and sit next to you the entire time at the deposition to make sure that the company's lawyers do not take advantage of you. I will depose corporate representatives from the employer to discuss their policies regarding the claims in your case, as well as any investigations, complaints, important documents and witnesses regarding your case. If you have a harassment or discrimination case, I will depose the person responsible for the harassing and discriminatory acts. Third party witnesses may also be deposed. Sometimes there are many, sometimes there are none.
Going to trial? Maybe. I am an experienced trial attorney and ready to bring your case to a judge and jury. But employers and employees in most cases agree to "settle" the case before trial in order avoid the risk and expenses that a trial brings. A settlement means that the parties have agreed, on their own, to resolve the case, usually where the employer pays a sum of money in return for the employee to stop prosecuting all claims. How much the case settles for varies greatly from case to case and depends on many factors. Neither I or any attorney can guarantee any result. When we initially agree to take on your case, we believe that your case has some merit. How much merit your case has depends on many factors that we do not discover until, you guessed it, the "discovery" step of the process. The value of your case may go way up or way down. My job is to fight ethically and as effectively as I can on your behalf. Here are the usual ways your case will be resolved: First, the employer's attorney and the employee's attorney informally discuss the case and resolve the matter. You will be informed about developments in these discussions and approve any settlement. Second is private mediation. Before any trial, the parties often hire a private mediator, who is a well-respected former lawyer or judge. The mediator will listen to both sides of the case, help the parties negotiate and agree to a compromise. Mediators have their own private offices, where all parties, with their attorneys, attend one day. The parties sit in separate, but comfortable, office rooms, as the mediator goes back and forth between these rooms during the day, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each side's case and pushing the parties to a fair resolution. It is often very boring, but very effective. Third is an arbitration hearing. The parties agree to pay an arbitrator, who, like a mediator, is a well-respected former lawyer or judge. The arbitrator essentially stands in the place of a judge and jury to decide the entire case on its merits at a hearing, where attorneys present all the evidence just like a court trial. Fourth is a court trial. A judge or a jury hears the case, the evidence, and the witnesses before deciding.
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