Filing an Employment Lawsuit: Five Things to Know

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An employment lawsuit is a challenging, stressful event. Employment and wage law is extremely complex. In many cases where employees feel they have been unfairly treated, however, they can feel that their employer holds all the strings. If you retain an employment law attorney to help you in your fight for justice, he or she will start by attempting to negotiate your claim with your employer. In some cases, the employer will pay the money owed, but if no or partial payment is offered, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Filing an employment lawsuit

A lawsuit begins with a “complaint”, paperwork filed with the court system. The complaint identifies you and your employer, explains your claim, and specifies what the court should do about your case. A “summons” is served on your employer along with the complaint. When your employer is served a summons, they are legally required to file an answer to your claims. Time is of the essence as the “statute of limitations” legally defines the time period during which a lawsuit is filed. The statute of limitations must be strictly adhered to. There are severe consequences for not complying with the statute of limitations.

Let me pause here to say, if you need help with an employment case immediately, I encourage you to contact me right away.

Five key steps in a lawsuit

Once your employment lawsuit has been filed, the case enters the “discovery” phase. “Discovery” refers to the gathering of information by each side about their cases. Both you and your employer are allowed to find out the claims, defenses, facts, witnesses, documents and other evidence important to the case. During the discovery phase, each side is allowed to use discovery tools to help them find the information or evidence that may help or hurt their case.

It is important to note that every attorney knows about the various discovery tools, but only experienced wage claim attorneys know how to use these tools properly to obtain the information needed to prove your case. Less experienced attorneys often use discovery without a strategy or any idea of what they are actually looking for from the defendant or other witnesses.

1. Interrogatories

Interrogatories are written questions sent by the attorney for one side to the other party. They ask specific questions related to the case. The party that receives the interrogatories is required to answer the written questions under oath and on time.

2. Requests for Production of Documents

Requests for production of documents are requests sent by the attorney for one side to the other side requesting that certain documents and materials be produced. The words “documents” and “materials” are defined very broadly. Diaries, books, ledgers, bank records, cancelled checks, letters, and emails may be included. The party that receives the requests for production is obligated to produce the requested documents and materials.

3. Depositions

A deposition allows an attorney to compel witnesses or parties to the lawsuit to appear and testify under oath about any information relevant to the case before the actual trial. The deposition usually occurs in a conference room with a court reporter and attorneys for all of the parties present. The attorney who requested the deposition will then ask the person being deposed specific questions relevant to the case. The person answering questions is obligated by law to answer the questions truthfully, just as if he or she was testifying in court. As questions and answer are provided, the court reporter, who is an officer of the court, will be creating a verbatim transcript of the proceedings. The testimony may then be used at trial if the deponent provides contradicting testimony at trial.

A deposition is very important. It is recommended that you have an experienced attorney prepare you for your deposition so that you don’t make statements that hurt your case. An attorney will also help you avoid providing contradictory information during your deposition and trial testimony. Any inconsistencies or differences in your testimony at deposition and at trial can be used to hurt you. Your employer’s attorney will attempt to convince the jury that you are lying. Juries react negatively to what they are convinced are untruthful statements.

4. Alternative dispute resolution

Most of the time, Washington courts require the parties in an employment lawsuit to attend “alternative dispute resolution,” which may resolve the case without trial. There are several types of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, arbitration and a settlement conference.

Mediation is the most common method of alternative dispute resolution. Mediation is the process of using a third-party negotiator, called a “mediator” to settle your case. An experienced neutral attorney or retired judge with many years of experience dealing with wage cases may serve as a mediator. A mediator is chosen by a mutual agreement between the attorneys for both sides, and each side is generally responsible for paying for the mediator’s time. Mediation can last all day, and in some cases, can go on into the evening. It can be stressful and emotional, but it can also be successful in settling your case.

Arbitration is conducted like a trial with both sides presenting evidence to support their case. However, arbitration is more informal than a trial. The arbitration occurs in front of an experienced attorney or retired judge called the “arbitrator.” The arbitrator acts like a jury and judge do in a trial case. He or she will evaluate the evidence and make a decision that is binding on the parties. The arbitration decision is called the “award.”

5. Taking your Employment Lawsuit to Trial

If the case does not settle at mediation and the discovery has been completed, the case proceeds to trial, where you will be required to present your case to the judge or jury.

A trial follows certain rules. Those rules are set forth in previous court decisions, called “precedent,” rules of civil procedure, rules of evidence, and approved jury instructions. Both sides are required to follow the rules so that the trial is fair. These rules will require the exclusion of certain facts or exhibits that you may feel are important to your case. An experienced attorney can explain to you why this evidence must be excluded. He will also ensure that your employer does not introduce any facts or documents that are improper under the rules.

Trials are conducted in front of a jury or, if the parties agree, in front of a judge. An experienced attorney can explain the advantages and disadvantages of having a jury or judge hear your case. This decision depends on the specific facts of your case and the issues in your case. Going to trial is a risk, as both judges and juries are unpredictable. Be aware that any attorney that guarantees the outcome of your case is not telling you the truth.

Do you need help with an employment case? Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions.

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