When Considering a Workplace Harassment Or Wrongful Termination Lawsuit
If you’ve been harassed, discriminated against or wrongfully terminated from your job, chances are, you’re considering filing a lawsuit or at least exploring what options are open to you for redress. If you’re considering filing a lawsuit, you should be able to provide your attorney with some ammunition to fight your claim and effectively handle your case.
Definition: Redress - Remedy or compensation for a wrong or grievance
When it comes to wrongful termination, it is important to bear in mind that most employees are presumed to work “at will”, meaning they can quit anytime and they can be let go at any time, for any reason that’s not illegal. So, for instance, an employee who is terminated for unsatisfactory performance, poor attendance or misconduct—or even just not being the proper fit for the job—typically won’t have any recourse against their former employers. However, there are some exceptions to the at-will rule. Even at-will employees are protected by law and cannot be terminated for illegal reasons such as discrimination, retaliation for reporting wrongdoing or harassment or because they exercised a legal right. Under these circumstances, an employee may have grounds for a lawsuit and should consider contacting an employment law attorney.
If the circumstances of termination suggest that it might have been illegal, you can consult with a lawyer who will go over the facts and assess whether there is potential for legal claims. If there are solid grounds to file a claim, a lawyer can help with the process of asserting your rights.
It’s particularly important to consider legal consultation if you are asked to sign a waiver or release of claims, in which you forfeit all your right to sue an employer. Often, employers require employees to sign this sort of agreement as a condition of getting severance. Once an employee signs a release, it’s very difficult to unbind—even if an employee has later discovered that they could have valuable legal claims against their employer. Employees need to take heed when signing any employment contract because it’s important to know what claims they are giving up and what they could be worth.
Once you’ve decided that you want to seek legal redress, you need to go about putting your case together. Your first step in seeking redress has to start with the EEOC. Other articles on our website provide more information on what this entails. In summary you need to:
- Identify the basis of your wrongful termination lawsuit
- Compile evidence that will be used in your claim such as:
When you first meet with your lawyer, he or she will ask you a lot of questions to help him or her understand what transpired at your workplace which have led you to consider filing a lawsuit. In addition to talking to your lawyer about your claim, he or she will be interested in seeing documents relating to your claim, some of which have been alluded to above. Some of these documents may be in your possession while others may be in the possession of your employer or other third party. Regardless, it would greatly help your case to be able to provide the following documents to your lawyer:
This is an important source of information for your lawyer that will help him or her to construct a background of your history with the company. Your personnel file will have details of your hiring and termination, performance evaluations, promotions, previous disciplinary actions that have been taken against you, if any. If you do not have a copy of your personnel file, your lawyer can obtain it from your employer on your behalf.
Employers often adopt company policies which proclaim standards of acceptable behavior within the company. These policies usually include anti-discrimination or anti-harassment standards and are usually handed out as handbooks to employees, or posted in common areas. If your employer has such handbooks and policies, be sure to store a copy when it is handed to you and provide this to your lawyer. Your lawyer would be interested in reading them to determine if your employer followed its own policies. If it did not, then your case may be strengthened.
If the harassment or discrimination you experienced caused you to lose time from work, and thus lose income, you should provide your attorney with copies of your pay records. Your lawyer can use your pay record to quantify the impact of the discrimination or harassment on you, by showing the difference between your earnings before the discrimination or harassment started, and your earnings afterward. If your lawsuit is successful, your lawyer may be able to recover your lost income as damages.
If you’re able to provide your lawyer with physical evidence of the discrimination or harassment, such as inappropriate messages, pictures or emails sent to you, this will greatly strengthen your case. Your ability to provide these depend of course on whether you stored them when they were sent to you.
One of the most helpful pieces of documentation you can provide your lawyer are your own written descriptions of the incidents of discrimination or harassment. This could be in the form of a diary, or notes written at the time of the incidences. Such entries should include information such as date, time, location of the discrimination or harassment, exactly what happened and those who witnessed the discrimination or harassment.
If the discrimination or harassment has caused you to develop a medical or mental health condition or to seek treatment or counselling, you should be able to provide this information and supporting documents to your lawyer. If you are successful in your lawsuit, this information could positively affect how much damages you can recover.
If there were witnesses to the incidences of discrimination or harassment, provide your lawyer with their names and contact info, so that your lawyer can corroborate your story and possibly have them serve as witnesses when your case goes to court. If you managed to obtain a statement from a colleague or other persons who witnessed anything that could corroborate your story, you should also provide this to your lawyer.
Although the ideal situation is that you should be able to provide all of the above documents above to your lawyer, it is quite possible that you are not able to. If you cannot, then you should at least be able to provide your lawyer with as much as you possibly can. This will save your lawyer the legwork of trying to track down information and being stalled. It will also expedite your case and help you get to a resolution faster.
As you may have surmised from the above, proper documentation is a significant part of successfully filing a workplace harassment or wrongful termination claim. You need it, your lawyer needs it and the EEOC and/or courts also need it. However, providing the right documentation goes beyond merely having the documents. They need to be in a format in which they can be accepted as evidence and not have their authenticity questioned. In other words, your documents need to stand up to scrutiny in court. This is particularly so for documents which you create yourself, such as your diary entries, and documents which are vulnerable to being manipulated, such as emails, witness statements and the like.
So in addition to having the right documents, you also need to ensure that their integrity is protected through a document storage and verification system like Forensic Notes which automatically timestamps your document and protects them from being tampered with. This is critical to their acceptance as evidence which your lawyer can put forward before the EEOC or in court.