Employment Discrimination 101: When Should I Get An Attorney?

Many times, individuals who have suffered discrimination, harassment, or other unfair practices by their employer do not know where to begin in seeking a resolution to their problems. Often, victims of employment discrimination wait until they feel they have exhausted all of their options before they ever consider contacting a lawyer. Some think they can’t afford an attorney; others think they can do it themselves; some are afraid of retaliation, particularly if they’re still employed by the employer who has discriminated against them; and others just hate dealing with lawyers. However, by doing so, they sometimes hurt their case and hinder their ability to force their employer to follow the law. So, the short answer is: you should get an attorney as soon as possible.

While we’ll get into the details of employment discrimination cases in future blog posts, it’s important to know why you should contact an attorney as early as possible if you believe you may be experiencing discrimination in the workplace, particularly in the State of Missouri.

To begin with, there is a very short time frame within which certain types of claims must be brought. Generally, an employee only has 180 days from the date of a discriminatory incident to file a formal complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you fail to file your complaint within this time frame, you lose your ability to later bring a lawsuit. Calculating the time frame is not always easy, either; if the discrimination is a series of subtle events or an ongoing problem, figuring out when to file the complaint may be difficult. An experienced employment lawyer can be an invaluable asset, even at such an early stage.

Furthermore, the complaint you file with the MCHR or the EEOC has to be fairly specific, and it has to name the parties that are involved in the discriminatory behavior.  Even though your complaint is normally taken directly by the MCHR or EEOC, your best option is to have an employment attorney assist you with the process. Not only can an attorney ensure that your complaint is timely filed, they can also bolster any attempts to resolve the problem – for example, through mediation or a lawsuit – by making sure the complaint is complete. There are significant differences between federal discrimination laws and the Missouri Human Rights Act, and having a well drafted, complete complaint may make the difference between a favorable and unfavorable resolution. The MHRA allows individual managerial employees to be named in the complaint or lawsuit if they are responsible for the discriminatory acts, while federal law generally does not. Thus, a complaint initially filed with an EEOC officer may not include the names of individual managers, which is required under the MHRA. If you don’t name the parties or allege all of the forms of discrimination you have experienced, you can’t bring a lawsuit. Moreover, failing to name certain parties may affect what court your case ends up in, which could affect the outcome.

Once the charge of discrimination has been filed, there are often attempts to mediate, or informally resolve, the complaints. While mediation is a great tool for parties to resolve their differences, it is also a situation where an inexperienced victim may inadvertently give up their rights for very little in exchange. Many times, an employer will offer a small settlement amount to resolve all of your complaints, which might sound good at the time. However, if you have been unfairly terminated, demoted, or have otherwise lost wages, the offer may not be sufficient to cover your losses. Once you settle the case, it is almost universally in exchange for you agreeing to permanently drop your complaint. Having someone in your corner who can explain your options, help you evaluate the fairness of an offer, or help you understand the implications of settlement can make all the difference in your case.

If mediation fails (or doesn’t occur), the typical next step is for the EEOC or MCHR to issue a letter that gives you authority to sue the employer. Here, deadlines get even tighter: once the letter is issued, you only have 90 days to file the lawsuit. All too often, victims are left scrambling, or waiting until the last minute, to find a Missouri employment lawyer they feel comfortable with, and who will take their case. Sometimes, this results in a missed filing deadline, and once that deadline has passed, it is almost impossible to bring a lawsuit. Hiring an attorney early in the process ensures that he or she is familiar with the facts of your case, that they know where in the process your case is, and that any lawsuits get filed on time and in the right place. Giving your lawyer enough time to investigate and put together a plan greatly increases your chance of success.

Some people don’t realize how important an experienced employment attorney can be to their case, while others think they cannot afford one. If you have lost a job, been demoted, been turned down for a job or promotion, or otherwise been adversely affected by employment discrimination, you usually only have one shot at being made whole again. Fortunately, many employment firms, including BCU Law Offices, offer a free initial consultation. In addition, many firms offer flexible fee arrangements for employment discrimination cases, such as a “contingency basis,” which means that the attorneys do not get paid unless you recover. In some cases, attorneys’ fees may even be awarded, and the employer therefore pays for your legal fees.

Having your job or livelihood affected by discrimination can be one of the most devastating events anyone can experience. Lost wages, unemployment, a tarnished job record, and ill effects to your health are not uncommon, and may unfortunately haunt you for years to come. However, knowing your rights and having someone on your side, fighting for those rights, can protect you. Your employer probably has knowledgeable, experienced, aggressive attorneys working to protect its interests; you should have the same. At BCU Law Offices, we are committed to protecting Missouri workers by keeping them apprised of their rights and fighting for justice when they’ve been wronged. If you believe you have been the victim of unlawful employment discrimination, do not wait. Contact us today for your free consultation.

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