This information will hopefully allow you to better understand what is involved in pursuing a claim against your employer.  It is a process that does take time and requires patience and determination on your behalf.  The information set forth below is a general description of what steps are usually involved in bringing a claim of discrimination.

It is important to remember that this is a general description.  Each person’s case depends greatly on his or her individual facts, location, and applicable law.  Therefore, the information provided below may vary for your particular claim.  This information should not be construed as a legal opinion or advice regarding your claim.  Again, every case will vary depending on its facts and circumstances.

Time Frame: There are timeframes or deadlines for bringing almost all legal actions, and there are definitely deadlines that must be met when bringing allegations of discrimination in employment.  Failure to meet these time frames may forever bar you from bringing any claim for employment discrimination.  Therefore, in order to protect your rights, it is important that you learn of these deadlines by either contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or speaking with an attorney.

The Complaint or Petition: A lawsuit is started with the filing of a Complaint (the name used in Federal Courts) or a Petition (the name generally used in State Courts).  The person filing this document is referred to as the plaintiff.  The Complaint or Petition is a document that basically summarizes your factual and legal claims.  After this is filed, the document is served on the defendant.  From the date the defendant gets this document, they have a certain time to file an Answer with the Court (the amount of time to file the Answer depends on whether your case is in Federal or State Court).  In the Answer, the defendant will either admit or deny the factual and legal items raised in your Complaint or Petition.

Scheduling of your Litigation: After the Answer is filed in your lawsuit, the parties to the lawsuit usually meet and create a proposed schedule of deadlines that will apply to the litigation of your case.  Again, this will depend on where your legal action was brought.  The Court will then issue a Scheduling Order that sets forth all the deadlines and dates for the litigation of your case.  An example of a date would be when your case set for trial.  Generally, all cases are set for trial about one year after the Complaint or Petition is filed.  Again, this may vary depending on the location of the Court.

The Discovery Process: After the lawsuit has been filed, and the defendant filed its Answer, the parties are allowed an opportunity to discover information, get documents, ask written questions, and take depositions.  In Federal Court, the parties are required to produce some documents and provide some information in the beginning without requiring the other side to ask for it.  These are called Initial Disclosures.  Either party can submit a written request for documents to the other side which are called a request for production of documents.  This is basically asking the other side to give you copies of certain documents.

Either party can also give a list of written questions to the other side.  These written questions are called interrogatories.  The party receiving these questions will have to provide written answers (or objections) under oath.  Usually, you will review these written questions and then meet with your attorney to prepare your answers before they are given to the other side.

Finally, either party can take depositions.  A deposition is when a person is required to appear in person and have questions asked by an attorney.  Testimony at depositions is given under oath.  These questions and answers are recorded by a court reporter and can even be video taped.  Attorneys for both sides of the lawsuit will be present at depositions.  As the plaintiff in the case, you will almost always have your deposition taken.  Before your deposition is taken, your attorney will usually meet with you and prepare you for what will occur at your deposition.  In turn, your attorney can take depositions of persons associated with the defendant in your case or depositions of persons that have information relating to your case.

After discovery is completed, both sides have a better understanding of their cases and should be aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  Things may occur or be revealed during discovery that could affect initial opinions of your case.  Your attorney should share this information with you as the case proceeds.

Summary Judgement: After all the discovery is completed, the defendant will have an opportunity to file a Motion for Summary Judgment.  This is optional, however, most defendants file these motions.  This motion allows the defendant to go to the Court with the argument that even if all the facts as stated by the plaintiff were true, a jury of reasonable persons could not find in plaintiff’s favor at trial under the current law.  At this stage of the litigation, the Court examines the facts of your case and applies it to the existing law to determine whether or not you should be able to proceed to a jury trial.  For the most part, the facts of the case will be ascertained from the information that was obtained in the discovery process.  This summary judgment motion is usually filed a few months before your trial date.

If the Court grants the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, you do not get a jury trial.  If this happens, you can appeal this decision to the appropriate court of appeals.  If the Court denies the defendant’s motion, then you will get to proceed to a jury trial.  It is also possible that the defendant only asks for certain things in its motion for summary judgment.

For example, you may be suing the defendant under three different legal theories.  The defendant may argue in its motion for summary judgment that some, but not all, of these theories should be dismissed.  If they are successful, you will still get to proceed to trial on the remaining legal theories.  Certain judges are known to grant summary judgment more than other judges do.  Therefore, what judge you get on your lawsuit has a big impact on the success and value of your case.  Usually, you will learn who your trial judge is when you file your lawsuit.  Very rarely are you allowed to change your judge after the lawsuit is filed.

Your Trial: If you pass the summary judgment stage, then you will get to proceed to trial.  Trials generally last about one week.  The first day will be spent picking a jury.  There will be a jury panel of persons (usually between 30 and 50 people).  The parties to the case pick the jury from this panel.  Juries in federal court usually have between 7-9 persons.  A jury in federal court generally has to find unanimously in favor of the successful party.  In other words, if there is a panel of 8 jurors, for you to win, all 8 must agree that you should win and how much you should be awarded.  These numbers will vary when in State Courts. 

The type of persons that will serve on your jury is impossible to predict.  Your attorney can do certain things to prevent some prejudicial persons from getting on the jury, but there is no guarantee.  Who is on your jury has a great impact on how your case will do at trial.

Also, another big factor at trial is what information will get into evidence to be presented to the jury.  This has a big impact on most cases.  The trial judge determines what evidence can be presented to a jury under the rules of evidence.  Certain judges allow more into evidence than other judges do.  Again, the judge assigned to your lawsuit has a big impact on the success and value of your case.  Going to trial involves a great amount of risk for both sides in the lawsuit.  It is a big gamble for all involved.  However, going to trial is necessary in some cases.  Our office prides itself on its trial capabilities and willingness to try cases.

Appeals: If you are successful at trial and receive a jury verdict in your favor, it can almost be guaranteed that the defendant in your case will appeal the verdict to the next level of courts.  This appeal will take place after the defendant files several motions with the trial judge in your case.  The appeal to the higher court involves the parties writing legal briefs and giving oral arguments to a group of appellate judges (usually three judges).  Again, what judges you get on the appellate level will have an impact on how the appeal may turn out.

The appellate court can reverse the jury and find for the defendant, reverse a jury finding and order a new trial on your whole case, or it can lower the amount of damages that the jury awarded to you.  It can also uphold the verdict as it stands.  The lowering of damages awarded by the jury often occurs with the punitive damage award.  Appellate courts are infamous for lowering the amount of money a jury awards when punishing the defendant.

One thing to remember about the appeal; it will generally add more than one year to the final resolution of your case.  From the time you file your case to a final resolution including an appeal may take close to three years.  This is why patience and determination are necessary ingredients for a person pursuing a claim of discrimination.

Mediation: An alternative to going to trial is for the parties to reach a settlement beforehand.  On their own, the parties may be able to resolve a matter before extensive litigation occurs.  Also, a process called mediation is often used in cases to see if settlement is a possibility.  In several federal courts, the parties and attorneys are required to go to mediation.  In mediation, a neutral third person, called the mediator, meets with both sides of the lawsuit.  This person can be Court appointed, a judge that is not working on your case, or a person agreeable to both parties.

At the mediation session, both sides usually give a brief presentation of their cases to the mediator.  After this is done, the parties will split up and go into separate rooms.  The mediator will then visit each side in private to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.  The mediator will usually get an offer of settlement from the plaintiff and take it to the defendant.  In turn, the defendant usually makes a counteroffer.  This can occur several times in a mediation process until both sides reach an agreeable settlement amount.

As the client, you ultimately make the decision on whether to accept a settlement offer from the defendant.  Your attorney will be present to give you advice and an opinion on the settlement amount.  Any items discussed at mediation sessions are confidential and cannot be used as evidence at your trial.  There are no consequences with the Court if the mediation is not successful.  Mediation can occur at any time of the litigation.

If you would like for this office to review your case, please contact us.



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