If you think you have a discrimination or civil rights issue, know a few things about working with a discrimination lawyer and what to expect if you want to pursue a lawsuit.
Seek Legal Help Sooner, Not Later
Strict time limits apply in most types of discrimination cases. Don't delay in seeking out a lawyer's help. Getting your case or claim off to a timely start, and having the legal help you need early in the process can really make a difference in the outcome of your case.
Your lawyer's skill and experience may be most valuable before you take any action in your case. For example, your lawyer will ask you for the facts of your case and assess your situation. If you go it alone, you may put the outcome of your case at risk by leaving out important facts or supplying incorrect information.
Many discrimination cases start at an agency or administrative level, and not at the courthouse. If you wait to find a lawyer until after an agency makes an initial decision in your case, your lawyer's options for helping you may be limited.
Give yourself time to research and find the right lawyer for your case. It may be harder than you think. Lawyers practicing in discrimination law often are busy with full caseloads, and may not be able to take your case. A lawyer may be reluctant to accept your case if the statute of limitations or time limit for your claim is coming up soon.
Some discrimination lawsuits take the form of a class action, and some lawyers concentrate on this case type. Here, a group of people suffer from discrimination under similar facts and seek legal relief together. Being a class action member may be easier than pursuing individual lawsuit, and you still get the solution you were hoping for.
Statutes of Limitations
Watch the calendar, the time limits in many discrimination cases is a major factor. Depending on your case type, and you may be limited to making a claim within 180 or 300 days. There can be issues on the validity of your claim and whether you've met the time limits.
Some claimants do start the complaint process and file a claim with the appropriate agency themselves if the time limit is running short and they don't have a lawyer.
Fee arrangements in discrimination cases may be an hourly or contingent fee. The strength of your case may be a factor in the fee agreement. With a strong case, a lawyer may be more willing to take your case on a contingent fee basis, meaning payment is made if you win at trial or settle your case. The fee is set as a percentage of your recovery, and might be up to 50 percent. Some lawyers only work on an hourly fee basis because case outcomes are often uncertain.
Expect to pay costs related to your lawsuit. These can range from deposition and expert witness expenses, to administrative costs such as copying and filing fees. Costs can run into the thousands of dollars, especially if expert witnesses and medical exams are needed.
Your lawyer can't predict whether you'll win or lose your case, but should be able to give you a rough idea of the strength of your case, the outcome in similar cases and what damages you might hope to win.
Is Settlement Likely?
Many lawsuits of all types end with a settlement before there's ever a trial or a judgment. Discrimination cases are no different. Your case could settle before either side starts litigation in earnest, after discovery, when both sides have done their investigations and the case is scheduled to go to trial, or even right before trial starts. Settlement can be most attractive at the outset of your case, before any substantive resources have been devoted to the lawsuit.
When there's a settlement offer, review it carefully, and weigh it against the trial process itself and the chances you'll win. Trials can be hard - you have to prove your case, and a discrimination case often involves evidence related to your personal life and health. It can take a physical and emotional toll on the strongest people.
Staying the Course
A discrimination claim can take months or even years to resolve, so patience is needed. There may be legal steps to complete at the agency level before you can even file a lawsuit. However, it's important to stay in contact with your lawyer and know the progress of your case. Keep your lawyer informed if you learn of any new evidence or witnesses, or other information that could be important.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can you review the evidence in my case, and tell me how strong my claim is?
- If my claim is weak and may not support a lawsuit, are there any other ways to address the situation, say discrimination at work? Should I seek human resources help, or just continue to record problems as they come along?
- If the statute of limitations expired, are there any exceptions that apply to my case?