How To File a Lawsuit Against Your Employer Staff Profile Picture
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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?

When considering filing a lawsuit against an employer, it's crucial to understand that statutes of limitations (SOL) can vary significantly based on the nature of the claim, the jurisdiction in which the claim is filed, and the specific laws under which the claim is brought. These statutes are essentially deadlines by which a lawsuit or claim must be filed in court or with the relevant agency.

Statutes Vary by Jurisdiction

In Washington State, for example, the SOL for discrimination claims under state laws, such as the Washington State Law Against Discrimination, is three years from the date of the discriminatory act. This three-year window provides victims of discrimination a timeframe within which they can legally seek redress for their grievances under state law​​.

However, this contrasts with the federal procedure for handling employment discrimination claims, which typically fall under laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Under federal law, individuals who believe they have been subjected to employment discrimination are required to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act. This period extends to 300 days if there is a state or local agency enforcing a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis. After filing with the EEOC and receiving a Notice of Right to Sue, claimants have 90 days to file their lawsuit in federal court​​.

Not all federal employment claims require you to contact the EEOC within 180 days (or 300 days if applicable), however. Some federal employment laws fall outside of the EEOC’s enforcement and therefore have their own SOL. For example, claims involving the use of protected leave under the FMLA, and claims involving unpaid wages under the FLSA have their own SOL, which do not require the involvement of the EEOC. Generally, the SOL for these claims is two years from the date of the incident, but in some scenarios, it can be extended to three years.

Process Differs for Federal Employees

For federal employees, the process and timelines differ even more. Federal workers must contact their employer's EEO office within 45 days of the discriminatory incident to initiate the complaint process. This shorter timeframe emphasizes the need for federal employees to act swiftly when considering claims against their employer for discrimination.

Understanding these differences is vital for anyone looking to pursue legal action against an employer for discriminatory practices or other employment-related grievances. The varied SOLs across jurisdictions and between state and federal laws highlight the complexity of employment law and underscore the importance of seeking legal advice to navigate these legal waters effectively. Consulting with a legal professional can help individuals understand their rights, the relevant SOLs for their claims, and the best course of action based on the specifics of their situation.

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: 

  • Age

  • Color

  • Race

  • Disability

  • Gender

  • Religion

  • National Origin (aka language discrimination) 

  • Marital status

  • Pregnancy

  • Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

  • Genetic information 

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

The way to file the charge will differ depending on what type of lawsuit you’re filing. For most employment claims brought under federal law, 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 with the EEOC. 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. 

Gather Evidence

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. 

Translation Service

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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Ed Hones Profile Picture

Ed HonesReviewer

Ed Hones is an employment lawyer in Seattle, Washington, who represents workers in lawsuits against their employers. Ed focuses exclusively on workers' rights to help workers who have been victimized by their employers' unfair practices. He handles cases involving discrimination, retaliation, harassment, wrongful termination, and unpaid overtime. Visit: