Under federal and state laws, employees have specific rights and protections to ensure ethical employer-employee relationships. However, some corporations and other employers don’t abide by the regulations and try to deny workers their legal rights, pay, and benefits. Employers can skirt the law in a variety of ways, and common lawsuits filed against employers include discrimination and harassment, workplace-related injury, and wage and hour violations. Discrimination at work can have a long-lasting impact on a victim's career, income, and family life. To learn more about the specific state laws your employer must follow, go here to find your state’s employment regulations.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit Against My Employer?
Generally, the statute of limitations in your state determines how long you have to file a lawsuit. Under the federal FLSA, workers have up to two years to file a wage theft claim against a former or current employer. Anti-discrimination laws have stringent deadlines in order to proceed to court. In general, employees have 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place to file a charge. The 180-day filing deadline extends to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis.
If you plan to file a lawsuit alleging workplace discrimination, there are specific deadlines and requisite processes to follow. For workers, the clock starts from the date of the alleged discrimination, and within 45 days, employees must contact an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor (EEO) to discuss their case. Employers are required to post information about how to contact the agency’s EEO office, including the office location and what number to call to reach someone there. If this information is not readily available, then document this and contact the agency’s HR department for more information. A knowledgeable attorney can also walk you through this process and request the agency’s information on your behalf.
Once the EEOC closes its investigation of the alleged charges, it will provide a Notice of Right to Sue, which gives you permission to file a lawsuit in federal or state court. Keep in mind that you can request a Notice before the EEOC finishes investigating the charges and begin the litigation process. Once an employee receives a Notice of Right to Sue, they must file their suit within 90 days. This is a strict deadline set by federal law, so filing within the 90-day timeframe is extremely important. If you don’t file within 90 days, your case could be blocked from going forward in court.
Exceptions to the 90-day rule
For age discrimination lawsuits (ADEA), workers must file a charge with the EEOC. However, ADEA cases do not require a Notice of Right to Sue to file a lawsuit in court. Instead, employees can file any time after 60 days from the date of the filed charge but no later than 90 days after the EEOC investigation is concluded.
Equal Pay Lawsuits (EPA) also don’t follow the same process as other discrimination suits. Under the Equal Pay Act, workers can go directly to court and aren’t required to file a charge or obtain a Notice of Right to Sue before filing. Equal pay lawsuits must be filed within two years from the date of pay discrimination (three years if willful discrimination).
Equal pay claimants should be aware of the advantages of also filing their lawsuit under Title VII. Title VII makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on sex in the payment of wages or benefits. Filing a Title VII lawsuit in court does alter the process workers must follow and mandates that an EEOC charge must be filed along with receipt of the Notice of Right to Sue.
How to Start an Employment Lawsuit
Understanding how you’re protected is the first step in starting an employment lawsuit. Under many federal and state laws, employees are protected from discrimination and harassment at work. These laws bar employers from discriminating against workers based on their:
National Origin (aka language discrimination)
Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity
Once you’ve identified the nature of your claim, timely action is key to receiving compensation for workplace discrimination.
Attempt Internal Resolutions
Before you escalate your claim to the responsible agency, speak with your employer or HR department to try and resolve the issue in-house. A collaborative approach can often help resolve your claim as soon as possible without the stress and cost of going to court. However, if it’s not possible to work with your employer or they fail to resolve the discriminatory conduct, there are official steps you can take.
File a Charge of Discrimination
Depending on what type of lawsuit you’re filing, the EEOC dictates proper procedure before a lawsuit can be filed in court. If you believe you've been discriminated against based on any of the federally protected categories (sex, pregnancy, age, etc.), you can file a Charge of Discrimination. A charge of discrimination is a signed statement asserting that an employer, union, or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination and requests EEOC to take remedial action.
All EEOC regulations, except for Equal Pay lawsuits, require workers to file a Charge of Discrimination before they can file a job discrimination lawsuit against their employer. You can use the online EEOC public portal. Additionally, a lawsuit can be filed on your behalf to protect the aggrieved party’s identity.
Be aware that many state and local jurisdictions have their own anti-discrimination laws, and agencies responsible for enforcing these laws (Fair Employment Practice Agencies, or FEPAs). If federal laws apply and you file a charge with a FEPA, it automatically “dual-files” with the EEOC. You don’t need to file with both agencies in this instance.
Receive Right to Sue
Once the EEOC approves your claim’s eligibility to go to court, you’ll receive a Right to Sue, which permits the lawsuit to go forward in federal or state court. From that point, you will have 90 days to file the lawsuit.
From the beginning of the legal process, employees should gather documentation that supports their lawsuit. Copies of emails, workplace policies, and pictures of the workplace are all valuable supporting documentation to aid in receiving compensation as quickly as possible.
Contact an Employment Lawyer
Once you’ve gathered evidence, talk to friends and coworkers about potential referrals for a seasoned employment lawyer. Proper representation is vital to a positive outcome for your case. You can also search online for employment lawyers in your area. Once you’ve narrowed down possible attorneys, schedule free consultations to get a sense of which lawyer is the best fit for your case. A knowledgeable attorney can explain your legal rights and clarify your options moving forward. A lawyer can also assist you in gathering evidence, calculating damages, and negotiating a fair settlement.
How Long Does an Employment Lawsuit Take?
There’s no strict timeline for how long an employment lawsuit will take. Depending on the complexity of your case, how many charges were filed, and many other variables, a lawsuit could take up to several years to complete. An employment attorney can provide a more precise estimate for your case resolution and outline the expected costs of all your legal options.
Will My Employment Lawsuit Go to Court?
There are generally three options for an employment lawsuit: litigation, negotiation, or mediation. Whether or not your lawsuit goes to court depends largely on the nature of your claims and the type of employer you’re going up against. Many smaller companies will attempt to settle out of court to save on costs and reduce potential negative attention. However, large corporations and big names may have unlimited resources to fight every lawsuit, which makes finding a tenacious attorney necessary if you think the lawsuit will be a battle. An employment lawyer can fully explain the advantages and disadvantages of every strategy and help determine the next best step for your case.
Resources for Employees and Victims
No matter the type of lawsuit you’re filing, a lawyer that specializes in employment litigation is the most valuable resource to have on your side. Your EEOC counselor is also an asset who can clarify the claims process and provide you guidance on how (and where) to file your paperwork.
How-To Request a Notice of Right to Sue
Once you’ve registered with EEOC’s online portal, you can file your right to sue directly on their site. If you haven’t registered with them, you can also send your request for a Notice of Right to Sue to the EEOC office responsible for investigating your claim. Make sure to include your EEOC charge number and the names of all parties. Once you file the Notice, the EEOC has 180 days to release their findings from their investigation. If you don’t receive a Notice during this time, you can request one or wait till the EEOC announces that they’ve finished the investigation.
Employers should be mindful that numerous laws protect employees who can’t communicate in English and that violating such laws can lead to costly legal disputes. Legal translation services are key for foreign-language-speaking employees to be able to freely express workplace complaints if and when they arise. However, very few employers offer these services to their employees, which is where All Language Alliance comes in. All Language Alliance provides free certified translation, interpreters, and apostilles in person or via Zoom to folks looking for a translator in their language discrimination case.
Track your hours
For accuracy, you can track your hours on the job with the DOL-Timesheet App. The app can be used by employees or employers to keep track of regular work hours, break time, and overtime hours. The latest version of the app improves the comments capability, and offers multiple pay frequency options and additional pay calculations. It’s free for iOS and Android and available in English and Spanish.
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