Workplace lawsuits are fairly common, as employees and employers may have disputes in the workplace over various issues. Some of the most common workplace lawsuits include:
Wage and Hour Disputes
Wage and hour disputes often involve claims of unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, misclassification of employees as exempt or non-exempt, and minimum wage violations. Employees may also sue for violations of meal and rest break laws.
Discrimination lawsuits occur when employees allege that they have been treated unfairly based on protected characteristics such as race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. This may involve hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation decisions, as well as hostile work environment claims.
Harassment lawsuits typically involve allegations of sexual harassment or other forms of harassment based on protected characteristics. These claims often involve hostile work environments or quid pro quo harassment, where an employee is expected to tolerate harassment in exchange for job benefits.
Employees may sue for wrongful termination if they believe they were fired for an illegal reason, such as in retaliation for reporting illegal activities or exercising a legal right (e.g., taking medical leave), or due to discrimination.
Retaliation lawsuits happen when employees claim they have been punished or treated unfairly after engaging in protected activities, such as reporting discrimination, harassment, or other workplace violations or participating in an investigation of such claims.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Violations
These lawsuits involve claims that an employer has interfered with an employee’s right to take leave for medical or family reasons or that the employer has retaliated against the employee for taking such leave.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Violations
FLSA lawsuits involve claims of unpaid overtime, minimum wage violations, or other violations of federal wage and hour laws.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Violations
ADA lawsuits often involve allegations that an employer has failed to provide reasonable accommodations for a disabled employee or has discriminated against an employee based on their disability.
Employees may bring whistleblower lawsuits if they believe they have faced retaliation for reporting illegal activities, unsafe working conditions, or other violations of the law by their employer.
Breach of Contract
Employees may sue for breach of contract if their employer has violated the terms of an employment agreement, such as by failing to pay agreed-upon wages or benefits or by terminating the employee without cause when the contract prohibits such action.
What Are Some Legal Remedies for Workplace Lawsuits?
Some common legal remedies include:
- Back Pay: Compensation for lost wages, bonuses, or benefits as a result of an employer’s unlawful actions, such as discrimination, wrongful termination, or wage and hour violations.
- Front Pay: Compensation for future lost wages and benefits if the employee cannot be reinstated to their previous position.
- Reinstatement: Returning the employee to their previous position or an equivalent one if they were wrongfully terminated or demoted.
- Compensatory Damages: Compensation for non-economic losses, such as emotional distress, pain and suffering, or damage to reputation caused by an employer’s unlawful actions.
- Punitive Damages: Monetary awards intended to punish the employer for particularly egregious conduct and to deter similar conduct in the future. Punitive damages are not available in all cases and may be subject to statutory limits.
- Injunctive Relief: A court order requiring an employer to take specific actions (e.g., providing reasonable accommodations, stopping discriminatory practices) or prohibiting certain actions.
- Attorney’s Fees and Costs: In some cases, successful plaintiffs may be awarded attorney’s fees and costs associated with pursuing the lawsuit.
How Do I File a Workplace Lawsuit?
Filing a workplace lawsuit can be a complex process, and the steps depend on the specific type of claim and jurisdiction. However, here is a general outline of the filing process:
Speak with an Attorney
Before filing a lawsuit, it is advisable to consult with an employment attorney to discuss the merits of your case, the applicable laws, and the best course of action.
Attempt to Resolve the Dispute Internally
Many companies have internal policies and procedures in place for addressing workplace disputes, such as reporting to human resources or a designated compliance officer. It may be required or recommended to exhaust these internal avenues before filing a lawsuit.
File a Complaint with the Appropriate Agency
For certain types of workplace lawsuits, such as discrimination, harassment, or retaliation claims, you may need to file a complaint with a government agency before pursuing a lawsuit. This usually involves filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state-level agency. The EEOC will investigate the claim and may attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation or other means. If the EEOC cannot resolve the dispute, it may issue a “right to sue” letter, which allows the employee to proceed with a lawsuit.
Draft and File a Complaint
After obtaining a “right to sue” letter or exhausting other required administrative remedies, your attorney will draft a formal legal complaint outlining the basis for the lawsuit and the specific allegations. This complaint will be filed with the appropriate court, and the employer will be served with a copy of the complaint and a summons.
Discovery and Pre-Trial Proceedings
After the complaint is filed, both parties will engage in a process called discovery, which involves exchanging relevant documents and information, conducting depositions, and gathering evidence to support their claims or defenses. During this time, the court may also hear pre-trial motions, such as requests for summary judgment or to dismiss the case.
At any point during the litigation process, the parties may attempt to reach a settlement to resolve the dispute without going to trial. Many cases are resolved through settlement negotiations or mediation.
If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the case will proceed to trial, where both sides will present evidence and arguments to a judge or jury. The judge or jury will then decide the outcome of the case.
A class action lawsuit may be appropriate if a large number of employees are affected by the same workplace violation or have similar claims against the employer. In such cases, the lawsuit is filed on behalf of all affected employees, and the court must approve the class action status.
In some cases, an employee may file an injunction, which is a court order requiring the employer to take specific actions (e.g., reinstating the employee, ceasing discriminatory practices) or prohibiting certain actions. Injunctions are typically requested as part of a larger lawsuit.
Are There Any Defenses Available in a Workplace Lawsuit?
The defenses available in a workplace lawsuit depend on the allegations and the nature of the case, but some common defenses include:
- Statute of Limitations: Employers may argue that the employee’s claim is time-barred because it was not filed within the required time frame as dictated by the applicable statute of limitations.
- Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies: Employers may contend that the employee has not fulfilled the required steps before filing a lawsuit, such as filing a charge with the EEOC or following internal grievance procedures.
- Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason: In discrimination cases, employers may assert that the adverse employment action was taken for a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, such as poor job performance, misconduct, or economic necessity.
- Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ): Employers may argue that a specific characteristic (e.g., age, sex, religion) is a necessary qualification for the job in question and, therefore, not discriminatory.
- After-Acquired Evidence: Employers may present evidence of employee misconduct discovered after the alleged wrongful termination or other adverse action, which would have justified the action if known at the time.
- Independent Contractor Status: In wage and hour disputes, employers may argue that the worker is an independent contractor rather than an employee and, thus, not subject to the same legal protections.
- Safe Harbor: In some cases, employers may argue that they acted in good faith or relied on guidance from a government agency, which may provide a defense or mitigate potential damages.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Workplace Lawsuit?
Workplace lawsuits can often involve some very complicated legal issues. It’s in your best interests to hire a qualified workplace lawyers in your area if you need to file workplace lawsuit. Your attorney will be able to provide you with the guidance and legal advice needed to succeed on your claim.
Your rights matter and a qualified lawyer can help you hold those responsible accountable for their actions. Don’t wait – take action now and stand up for your rights.