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Labor and Employment Lawsuit: Step by Step



Before you can file a labor or employment lawsuit, you usually must exhaust all of your administrative remedies. This typically includes filing a complaint with the appropriate agency designed to hear the particular issues in your case.

Steps Before Filing an Employment Lawsuit

There are steps to follow if you feel you have been discriminated against or treated unfairly in the workplace or have other labor or employment complaints. Be aware that typically deadlines exist for filing a complaint with the appropriate agency—you must file your complaint within a certain time after the unlawful act occurred or lose your rights.

  • File a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), your state’s attorney general’s office, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, Occupational Standards and Health Administration (OSHA), or other appropriate state or federal agency.
  • Determine if your employer has a complaint procedure. For example, In sexual harassment cases, employers usually follow a specific protocol.
  • You may have to participate in either counseling or an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program to resolve your complaint.
  • If the issue or dispute is not resolved, you can then file a formal complaint with the agency.
  • Once the complaint is filed, the agency will determine if it meets procedural requirements such as timely filing.
  • If the complaint is valid, the agency will investigate the merits of your complaint. Depending on the agency, there will be a time limit for completing the investigation (usually 180 days).  
  • Depending on the agency, you may request a hearing after the investigation or ask the agency to issue a decision.
  • If you want a hearing, you must request one within a certain time after receiving notice from the agency regarding your hearing rights.
  • If a decision is rendered with which you disagree, you can appeal it or ask for a reconsideration if you can show the decision was based on factual errors or the incorrect law was applied.

When to File a Labor Lawsuit

In some instances, you may file a lawsuit in court when the administrative agency fails to issue a decision within the required time period. Otherwise, you can file a lawsuit after the agency hearing your complaint has issued an administrative decision adverse to your interests. For EEOC complaints, you can file after 180 days has passed from the time you filed your complaint or appeal and no decision has been issued; within 90 days of an EEOC decision if no appeal has been filed. After the EEOC has ruled on your appeal, you have 90 days in which to file a lawsuit.

For issues such as wage and hour disputes, you may either file a lawsuit directly without having to pursue an administrative remedy, or initially file a complaint with your state’s attorney general’s office. In some cases, the Secretary of Labor may file a lawsuit for back wages on behalf of an employee.

In cases involving denial of social security disability benefits, complaints begin with filing a petition with your state's social security adminstration before continuing with a request for reconsideration, an adminstrative hearing, and an appeals council review. Only after these administrative proceedings have been completed can you file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

In most cases involving labor disputes, and particularly in those with strict time requirements such as wage and hour issues, it is essential that you consult with a labor and employment lawyer to ensure you meet all the procedural requirements for your particular complaint.