Filing a lawsuit against an employer: What you need to know



Workplace challenges such as discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment can deeply impact employees’ lives. When an employer violates laws or company policies, the effects on workers can be devastating – leading to emotional distress, lost wages, and derailed careers.

However, many employees are unaware of their legal rights or company procedures for seeking recourse. An employment lawyer can be invaluable in these situations, empowering individuals to take action against employer misconduct.

Filing a lawsuit is a major step that requires careful consideration, but it may provide the only path to justice and positive change.

Grounds for a Lawsuit

Several common workplace issues may warrant a lawsuit:


If an employer makes decisions based on protected characteristics like race, gender, age, or disability, it can constitute illegal discrimination. Evidence is needed to prove discriminatory intent.


Severe, pervasive harassment is actionable when based on protected status. Harassment via bullying, threats, or hostility also may qualify.


Punishing workers for complaining of discrimination or other violations is unlawful retaliation. Adverse actions like demotion, disciplinary actions, or termination may be challenged.

Wage and Hour Violations

Failing to pay minimum wage or overtime violates federal and state wage laws.

Unsafe Working Conditions

All employers must comply with occupational safety laws. Injuries due to unsafe conditions or lack of protective gear can qualify for a claim.

Wrongful Termination

Firing without good cause breaches an employment contract. Termination violating public policy or labor laws may be contested.

The Role of a Lawyer

Before considering a lawsuit, it is essential to consult an experienced employment lawyer. An attorney can evaluate the specifics of your case and advise if you have valid legal claims against the employer. They know the complex laws and procedural rules regarding employment disputes.

Lawyers can also negotiate with the company first. If talks fail, you might need to file a lawsuit. During litigation, they handle all aspects – from submitting court documents to questioning witnesses. At settlement talks, a lawyer fights for full compensation. Without guidance, employees risk overlooking winning arguments or accepting an unfair deal.

Importance of Documentation

Documentation boosts the chance of a successful claim. Save copies of policies, handbooks, performance reviews, emails, texts, and notes from relevant conversations. If possible, get witnesses to verify misconduct. Circumstantial evidence matters, too. Photos or videos of hazards can help injury claims.

Steps Before Filing a Lawsuit

Report issues internally.

Before considering the significant step of filing a lawsuit, employees should make every effort to report issues internally through proper company channels. This demonstrates good faith attempts to have the employer address and resolve the problems directly without legal action.

Employees should document their complaints in writing and via email to create a paper trail. Most companies have procedures outlined in handbooks and policies for submitting grievances or claims of discrimination, harassment, or other violations. Following these complaint processes shows managers that employees are not jumping immediately to litigation.

Internal reporting gives the company the opportunity to investigate, intervene, and correct unlawful behaviors. Of course, employers do not always respond appropriately, which may then necessitate more formal legal steps.

2. File administrative charges.

Many major employment laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act require submitting administrative charges to an agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before a civil lawsuit can proceed. These charges outline unlawful practices like discrimination and trigger an investigation.

The administrative complaint serves as official notice to the employer while the agency assesses evidence. The EEOC may pursue mediation or even litigate on the employee’s behalf. If no resolution is reached after the administrative process, the agency issues a “right to sue” notice permitting the employee to file suit within 90 days. This prerequisite administrative step must occur within strict deadlines, so legal guidance is vital.

3. Hire an attorney.

As mentioned above, before taking legal action, employees must have an experienced employment lawyer review the facts and merits of potential claims against the employer.

An attorney with expertise in employment disputes can provide an objective, informed opinion if there are valid grounds for a lawsuit. They will identify the strongest legal arguments to pursue based on the evidence.

The lawyer can also manage procedural complexities, apply for damages, and negotiate a settlement.

4. Try mediation.

In some cases, mediation is a constructive step to explore after hiring a lawyer but before filing a complaint. Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process using a neutral third-party mediator to find common ground. It may open doors to reaching a settlement.

Participation in mediation also shows judges a willingness to resolve disputes amicably. The mediator facilitates discussions, identifies possible compromises, and can even share an opinion on potential case outcomes to guide negotiations.

5. Assess risks.

Before pursuing a lawsuit, employees must carefully weigh the risks and potential costs against the prospect of benefits. Lawsuits become public records, requiring disclosing sensitive details in open court.

Moreover, even strong claims do not guarantee victory. Jury sympathy or strict legal interpretations can derail cases. Hence, weighing projected litigation costs against likely compensation outcomes is essential.

6. Gather evidence.

Before filing suit, employees should diligently gather all available evidence to build the strongest case possible against the employer. Relevant documents like policies, emails, performance reviews, and notes validate claims, while witness testimonies also provide critical verification of unlawful practices.

Hence, discuss events with any coworkers, clients, or others who observed or can confirm misconduct. Also, locate any physical evidence, like defective equipment causing injuries; all photos, videos, and medical records solidify legal arguments.

The Litigation Process

If early resolution fails, your lawyer will file a complaint outlining alleged violations and the relief sought, starting the litigation process. Key phases include:

  • Discovery – Extensive information exchange, like documents, interrogatories, and depositions.
  • Motions – Court filings asking for rulings on disputed legal issues.
  • Trial – Presenting evidence and testimony before a judge or jury who decides if the employer is liable.
  • Post-Trial Motions – Challenging the verdict or seeking amended relief.
  • Appeals – Contesting the outcome to higher courts.
  • Settlement Negotiations – Discussing a compromise agreement to avoid protracted litigation.

Remedies and Damages

Successful employment lawsuits can lead to various remedies, such as:

  • Job reinstatement
  • Compensatory damages for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages to punish egregious conduct
  • Changes to company policies

Much depends on the claims involved and negotiations between the parties. Monetary compensation often hinges on lost income and the severity of harm. It’s critical to understand the range of potential remedies with your lawyer before committing to litigation.


Challenging workplace wrongs through a lawsuit is complex yet can be the only path toward justice after wrongful conduct by an employer. Consultation with an experienced employment attorney is essential to evaluate any claims and navigate procedural hurdles. While lawsuits involve risks and effort, they remain an important tool for employees to secure the full restitution they deserve. With the help of counsel, workers can thoughtfully exercise their rights and hold employers accountable for unlawful actions.