How to Sue for Gender Discrimination
In the employment context, both state and federal laws prohibit gender discrimination. If you're being harmed or treated differently because of your gender and want to file a lawsuit, you must act quickly to protect your rights. Anti-discrimination laws generally require that you must exhaust all so-called administrative remedies before you are allowed to file a lawsuit. This means that if you want to sue for gender discrimination, you must first file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or with your state agency. If the agency is unable to resolve your dispute, it will issue you a letter granting you the right to sue.
Filing a Charge with the EEOC
Gather information about the discriminatory conduct.You must have detailed evidence if you intend to pursue charges of gender discrimination.
- Consider keeping a record of all discriminatory statements or actions against you, including the date, time, and location of each incident and the names of everyone present or involved.
- Write down these record entries as soon as possible after the incident occurs so the details remain fresh in your mind.
- You also should keep any written documents or other physical evidence of discriminatory conduct.
- For example, if a co-worker repeatedly tapes sexually explicit images on your computer monitor to intimidate you from working in the mostly male sales department, take photos of your workspace before you remove the images, and keep the images themselves as evidence.
- You also should talk to co-workers about the behavior, particularly those who you know have witnessed the culprit's actions first hand.
Provide your employer with notice of your dispute.Before you can file a charge with the EEOC, you must alert your employer to the discrimination and allow time for a response.
- You must notify your employer in writing if you want to protect your federal rights. The EEOC will ask for proof that you notified your employer.
- Describe the discriminatory conduct in detail, including dates and names of those involved.
- State that you consider the statements or actions you described to be gender discrimination and are seeking to protect your rights under state and federal law.
- Once your employer receives notice, it is required by federal law to investigate the situation.
Assess your eligibility to file a state or federal charge.If your employer's response to your notice was unsatisfactory, you should contact your state's workplace discrimination agency to find out the requirements for filing a federal or state charge.
- State anti-discrimination laws typically cover employers that have too few employees to be covered by federal law. Federal laws only apply to businesses with at least 15 employees who worked at least 20 calendar weeks in a year.
- You can use the EEOC's online assessment tool at to determine whether you meet federal eligibility requirements.
- Keep in mind that you typically must file your charge within 180 days from the date the most recent discriminatory act occurred.
Fill out the intake questionnaire.To file a gender discrimination charge with the EEOC, you must complete the agency's three-page questionnaire.
- You can download a fillable PDF copy of the form online at , or you can pick up a paper form at any of the EEOC's field offices.
- Your state's workplace discrimination agency also may have copies of the EEOC form, or have a process that allows you to file a charge with both the state and federal agency at the same time.
Submit your questionnaire to the field office.Although you can download the questionnaire and fill it out on your own computer, you must print it and take it to the nearest EEOC field office to file your charge.
- The EEOC has a map of its 53 field offices available at . You can use this map to find the field office nearest you.
- If the nearest field office is too far away for you to travel, you can mail it to the address for that office listed on the map. However, if the filing deadline is looming, you may want to call the office beforehand so an agent can assist you.
Complete your interview.Once your charge is received, an EEOC agent will contact you with questions about your charge and the discrimination you've experienced.
- One benefit of filing your charge in person is that you can complete your interview with an agent at the same time.
- If you mail in your questionnaire, you may be contacted by phone or you may receive a list of questions in the mail.
Cooperate with the EEOC investigation.Within 10 days after your interview is completed, the EEOC will send notice and a copy of your charge to your employer.
- Depending on the agent's evaluation, you and your employer either will be sent to mediation, or your charge will be assigned to an investigator.
- If your charge is assigned to an investigator, your employer will be required to submit a written response to your charge.
- You will receive a right-to-sue notice from the EEOC if the agency finds no violation, or if the agency finds a violation but you and your employer are unable to reach a settlement through mediation and the EEOC legal team declines to file a lawsuit on your behalf.
- If you want to file your lawsuit before the EEOC's investigation is complete, you can request a right-to-sue notice from the agency.
- If it's been at least 180 days since you filed your charge, the agency must give you the notice. However, if it hasn't been that long, the agency will only give you a right-to-sue notice if the agent believes the investigation won't be completed within 180 days.
Initiating a Lawsuit in Federal Court
Consult an attorney.If you have a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, you should contact an attorney with experience representing employees in workplace discrimination lawsuits.
- Employment discrimination attorneys typically take cases on a contingency fee basis, so you need not worry about out-of-pocket spending for legal fees.
- You can search for attorneys on your local bar association's website. Many bar associations also have a referral program where you describe your case or answer a few short questions and are matched with attorneys who have experience handling cases like yours.
- Look for an attorney who has experience representing employees in discrimination cases against their employers.
- Interview several attorneys, and ask about their track record in employment discrimination cases, including questions about how many cases they've litigated, how many they've won, how many were settled out of court, and what their average recovery was.
- Pay close attention to whether the attorney has experience litigating cases similar to yours, particularly those against employers similar to yours.
- You also want to make sure that the attorney you ultimately hire is someone with whom you feel comfortable. Keep in mind that you may have to share some sensitive information with this person, so you want it to be someone who listens and who makes you feel at ease.
Go over your complaint.Once your attorney has all of your information, he or she will draft a complaint to put your lawsuit in motion.
- The first part of your complaint identifies you and your employer, and explains how the court has jurisdiction over your case.
- Typically your complaint will be accompanied by a copy of your right-to-sue letter, which demonstrates that you have exhausted administrative remedies as required by federal law.
- The bulk of your complaint consists of the allegations you are making against your employer, all of which add up to illegal gender discrimination.
- The final paragraphs of your complaint describe the monetary damages you believe your employer owes you as a result of the discrimination you've suffered.
- Your attorney will discuss the complaint with you and make sure you understand it before you sign it.
File your complaint.To initiate your lawsuit, you must take your complaint and all other required paperwork to the clerk of the court where your lawsuit will be heard.
- The filing fee for a federal civil case is 0. Your attorney will pay this amount, which will be added to the costs for your lawsuit and deducted from your award or settlement.
- When the clerk accepts your complaint for filing, he or she will assign it to a judge at random and give it a unique case number. This number will be included on all documents filed with the court in your case and will identify your case in subsequent court matters.
- Rather than taking your complaint to the courthouse in person, federal courts now allow cases to be filed electronically, which typically is what your attorney will do.
Have your employer served.After you've filed your complaint, you must use the legally recognized process of providing your employer with notice of the lawsuit.
- Federal rules give you 120 days to properly serve your employer after you've filed your complaint.
- Service in federal courts is completed by the U.S. Marshal's Service. A U.S. Marshal will hand-deliver your complaint and summons to your employer and then file a proof of service document with the court.
Wait for a response.Once your complaint is served, your employer has 21 days to file an answer or other motion in response to your lawsuit if it plans to mount a defense.
- If your employer doesn't file an answer by the deadline, you can file a motion for a default judgment. However, don't expect this to happen.
- Typically your employer will file an answer that consists of denials of most if not all of your allegations. This doesn't necessarily mean your employer is saying your allegations aren't true, but it does mean you'll have to prove that they are more likely than not to be true.
- Your employer also may file a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. If this happens, your attorney will draft a response to that motion and you probably will have to attend a hearing.
Litigating Your Lawsuit
Consider any settlement offers.Expect your employer to make a settlement offer at any time, often immediately after it receives notice of your lawsuit.
- While your lawyer must notify you of every settlement offer and advise you on whether to accept or reject it, the final decision is yours and yours alone.
- Keep in mind that the vast majority of civil cases are settled out of court, including discrimination cases. Your employer probably would prefer to settle and avoid the bad press of going to trial.
- However, even if the settlement is for less than what you're asking for in your lawsuit, you should take into account the time, effort, and expense of going all the way to trial. Often it will be in your best interests to settle your case so you can put the matter behind you and move on with your life.
Conduct discovery.The discovery process allows you to request information from your employer to use in your case.
- Discovery typically consists of two major components: written discovery and depositions. Written discovery includes requests for production, requests for admissions, and interrogatories. Interrogatories are written questions to the other party which are answered under oath.
- Through requests for production, you can ask your employer for personnel documents and written correspondence or other information related to your gender discrimination claim, including any records your employer has of its own investigation of the discriminatory incidents.
- Depositions can be a powerful tool for plaintiffs in gender discrimination cases. Your attorney will interview your employer and witnesses under oath regarding the incidents you claim are gender discrimination.
- A court reporter creates a written transcript of the questions and answers in each deposition, which can be used in trial or can serve as a basis to encourage a settlement.
Attend any pretrial hearings or conferences.During the period between when you filed your complaint and when your case is scheduled for trial, you typically must appear in court numerous times for hearings to resolve various pretrial matters.
- At a scheduling conference, the attorneys and the judge set down and evaluate the status of the case, setting deadlines for the completion of various stages of litigation leading up to the trial.
- You typically don't have to attend scheduling conferences. Your attorney will let you know the deadlines and schedule that was set.
- Throughout the pretrial phase, you and your employer may file motions requesting the court to act. For procedural motions, the court typically won't hold a hearing. However, for substantive motions that pertain directly to allegations in your case, you probably will have to attend a hearing.
- Closer to the trial date, the judge typically has a final conference to establish an estimated length for the trial itself and the evidence that will be presented.
Participate in mediation.Many courts require litigants to attempt to reach a settlement through mediation before the court will schedule a trial date.
- Mediation involves using a neutral third party, often an attorney, who is trained in dispute resolution tactics. He or she will assist you and your employer in coming to a mutually agreeable settlement.
- When courts require mediation, they typically either assign a mediator or provide you with a list of court-approved mediators from which to choose.
- If you reach an agreement through mediation, the mediator will type up the agreement and it will be approved by the judge.
- If you are unable to reach an agreement through mediation, you and your attorney must begin the task of devising a trial strategy and preparing for trial.
Video: Police Department Ends Fitness Tests After Female Cops Fail and Sue for Gender Discrimination
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