Timeline Of A Charlotte Employment Case
If you have never been involved in a lawsuit, it may surprise you how much time and work goes into effectively litigating a case. Generally, there are a number of steps through which each case will proceed before its resolution.
Many employment lawyers will tell you that a lawsuit begins with the filing of an administrative charge or a complaint in Court. But, for a plaintiff, the time period between when you know you will file a case, and when you actually file the case, is extremely important. During this time, the plaintiff knows there is a dispute and that a lawsuit is coming, but the defendant does not. This gives plaintiff a tremendous tactical advantage and savvy plaintiffs will use this time to prepare their cases. That way, when the complaint is filed and the curtain goes up, the plaintiff’s case will already be prepared while the defendant is left to try to react.
Once the plaintiff’s case is prepared, it is time to announce the dispute and potential litigation to the defendant. In most cases, this will mean a letter from your counsel to the defendant explaining that you have been treated unlawfully and inviting settlement negotiations between counsel. Engaging in early settlement negotiations is often a good idea for a number of reasons.
First, your case will often have more value to a defendant before it is filed publicly. Once a dispute becomes public, a company’s other employees can learn that a lawsuit has been filed and may get the idea to file a lawsuit of their own. There is value to the employer in avoiding the potential for more lawsuits.
Second, the first filing in a case is often an administrative charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Once the EEOC is involved and begins to investigate, things can spin out of control for the employer. Also, the EEOC tends to focus more intently on employers who have multiple charges brought against them, so there is a value to an employer in making sure that you do not file a charge that would add to their tally.
Finally, litigation is costly. There is value to an employer in settling early and avoiding the substantial attorneys’ fees that they would otherwise incur in defending the suit.
While there are some claims for which a plaintiff may proceed directly to court, many claims require that a plaintiff first file an administrative charge, usually with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC will then administer the applicable laws and conduct a thorough investigation of the facts. After the period of investigation, the EEOC may render a decision on the merits of the claim and/or provide the plaintiff with a “Right to Sue” letter, which permits the plaintiff to file a lawsuit in court.
Filing a Complaint
A plaintiff initiates a lawsuit by filing a complaint. The complaint generally describes the facts that led to the filing of the lawsuit, and sets forth the type of claim the plaintiff is filing. Once the complaint is filed with the court, a copy of the complaint is also served upon the defendant.
Once the complaint is served on the defendant, the defendant must respond to the complaint in a responsive pleading. This responsive pleading will take the form of either an Answer or a Motion to Dismiss. In a Motion to Dismiss, the defendant asks the judge to throw out the lawsuit on the grounds that the complaint is insufficient. The judge must then decide whether the complaint alleges sufficient information which, if true, states a claim that the defendant violated the law. If the judge finds that the case can proceed, the defendant will then have to file an Answer.
After the defendant has filed an Answer, the court will usually set a schedule for the remainder of the case. The schedule will set deadlines for when discovery will conclude and may set a date for dispositive motions or trial.
In discovery, the parties exchange documents and other information about the case. The discovery process is meant to ensure that there are no surprises at trial, as each side will understand the other side’s claims, defenses, and evidence. The primary discovery tools are Initial Disclosures, Document Requests, Interrogatories, and Depositions.
Initial Disclosures are written documents exchanged at the beginning of discovery in which each side lists their potential witnesses, the location of relevant documents, and other preliminary information.
Documents Requests require that each party provide to the other party any records or documents that may be relevant to the case. Parties are required to provide both hard copy documents (e.g., personnel file, performance reviews) as will as electronic documents (e.g., email).
Interrogatories are lists of questions that each party must respond to under oath.
Depositions are sessions during which one party’s lawyer will ask questions of the other parties witnesses before a court reporter. The court reporter will then provide a written transcript of the questions and the answers. Depositions usually take place in a conference room at an attorney’s office.
Once discovery has been completed, either party may file a Motion for Summary Judgment, which asks the Court to decide the case in their favor. These motions are more commonly filed by defendants. A Motion for Summary Judgment may only be granted if there are no issues of fact that would require a jury to make findings of fact. If there are questions of fact, such as whether an event took place, or whether one side or the other is telling the truth, then the case must proceed to a jury trial.
The vast majority of cases, well over 95%, are either settled or otherwise disposed of prior to reaching trial. For cases that do go to trial, the parties will first pick a jury. Next, both parties will give opening statements, present evidence, examine witnesses, and make closing statements. The jury will then decide the case by issuing a verdict finding either for the plaintiff or the defendant. After that, any party who is unhappy with the jury’s verdict may file an appeal.