What Happens When You File a Civil Suit Against an Employer?

Employees have the right to fair treatment in the workplace and employers have an obligation to provide their employees with a safe work environment that's free from unfair treatment. Despite the federal and state laws that protect your civil rights as an employee, the harsh realities of filing suit against your employer include an awkward working relationship, at best. Retaliation and unfair treatment based on your decision to sue your employer are some of the ugly truths about what happens when you file a civil suit against your employer.

  1. Workplace Policy

    • Many employers have an employee handbook that contains written policies concerning workplace issues and the steps employees should take to notify their supervisors or managers about their concerns. If you voiced your concerns or lodged a complaint about unfair treatment in the workplace and your issues were ignored or weren't addressed to your satisfaction, you might consider filing a lawsuit against your employer.

    In-House Complaints

    • Generally speaking, employees with problems in the workplace usually talk to a supervisor or manager first to discuss their concerns. If they're unable to share their concerns with a supervisor or manager, the employee can file an in-house complaint with the human resources department. Many companies have HR specialists who are specially trained to investigate and resolve employee complaints. In-house complaints should be handled as expediently and confidentially as possible.

    EEOC Charge of Discrimination

    • Although many employers make attempts to resolve employee issues in-house, the reality is that employers anticipate that some in-house complaints will eventually lead to formal litigation. Employees who aren't satisfied with the HR department's investigation have the option of filing a formal charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    Civil Lawsuit

    • As an aggrieved employee you have the right to bypass the federal or state process for resolving a workplace complaint by hiring a lawyer to represent your interests. Once you file a civil suit against your employer, the human resources department or the top management official is served with a copy of the court-stamped lawsuit that contains your allegations against the company. The bases on which many employees file civil suits against their employers can include unpaid wages, workplace injuries, job elimination, wrongful termination and other allegations of unfair employment practices, such as discrimination or harassment.

    Protection Against Retaliation

    • Companies know that retaliation is against the law. Nevertheless, in some instances, employers misstep and unintentionally or unknowingly retaliate against employees. In addition, when a supervisor receives word that an employee has filed a civil suit against the company as well as the supervisor, there exists the possibility of retaliation. For example, your supervisor might take away plum assignments for which you were responsible before you filed a lawsuit against your employer or create such an overwhelming workload that it appears that you're being set up to fail. If you're no longer employed by the company, there may not be the possibility of direct retaliation. However, you may experience backlash if you're looking for other employment, such as a bad reference when a prospective employer calls. This can be particularly damaging and embarrassing if you work in a close-knit field where colleagues talk or if you live in a small community.

    Attorney Advice

    • When you file a lawsuit against your employer, it's essential that you follow your attorney's advice. An attorney who routinely practices labor and employment law might foresee challenges you'll encounter throughout the duration of your suit. Depending on the circumstances, your attorney may advise you to take a personal leave of absence to minimize the potential of what may already be strained relationships with your boss as well as co-workers. One of the practical matters you'll need to consider is how to maintain your income if you have to take unpaid leave. No two civil suits are alike when it comes to employment circumstances or how your continued presence in the workplace might affect the progression or outcome of your lawsuit.

    Discovery Phase

    • The fact-finding phase of a civil suit where the parties exchange information is called "discovery." Each party submits interrogatories and requests for production of documents, and there's a time limit within which the parties have to respond. The discovery phase can last for several weeks. However, many federal courts have court-appointed mediators whose focus is to minimize the time parties spend exchanging questions and answers. Mediators always look for alternative dispute resolution to minimize the time and expense associated with formal litigation.

    Settlement or Trial

    • The final stage of formal litigation may be an out-of-court settlement or a trial before a jury. In employment litigation cases, it's common for lawyers to present their cases before a jury so as to get an impartial perspective that eventually leads to the resolution. During this time, it can be difficult to focus on work or anything else, for that matter. If you have been working throughout until this stage of the litigation and if you have paid time off, this is the most appropriate time for you to be off work because you'll likely be summoned to be appear in court anyway.

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