Trying to Sue Your Employer for Wrongful Termination Without a Lawyer is Not a Good Idea
Richard is a Black man who served in the U.S. Airforce. One day he swiped his Metrocard in the subway and it wouldn’t work. He stepped aside, retrieved another Metrocard from his wallet, and went back to the turnstile.
A police officer grabbed his arm and arrested him for “selling swipes.” Richard tried to explain what happened. The police officer wasn't listening. He grabbed Richard's arms and put him in handcuffs. Richard spent a full day in jail until he was released.
The prosecutor dropped the charges, but that was not the end of Richard’s troubles. Richard’s employer fired him based on the arrest. Richard asked to be reinstated when the charges were dropped, but the company refused. Then they challenged his unemployment benefits. Then Richard had to appeal. He tried to handle the appeal on his own without a lawyer.
While this was going on, Richard learned that one of his co-workers, who is white, was not fired after being arrested on serious criminal charges. He also learned that the president of the company, who is also white, was not fired after he was arrested for assault and attempted rape.
Richard filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He did this on his own without a lawyer.
Months went by as Richard waited for a decision from the EEOC. He still was not receiving any unemployment benefits. He tried to find a job, but it was difficult. Potential employers wanted to know why he had left his last job. They wanted a reference from his former employer. Without any income, Richard was evicted from his apartment. The situation was desperate.
The EEOC suggested that Richard and his former employer try to settle his claims through mediation. The former employer refused. So, the EEOC gave Richard a right-to-sue letter. This meant that he had to file a lawsuit in court within 90 days. Once again, Richard tried to do this on his own without a lawyer.
His former employer hired an aggressive law firm. They immediately filed a motion to dismiss Richard's case. Richard had to file a legal brief responding to all of their technical legal arguments in less than a month.
Finally, Richard contacted us and asked for help.
Getting a Lawyer Resulted in a Favorable Settlement
We reviewed all of Richard's documents, including the criminal file, the EEOC file, and the unemployment benefits file. He obviously had a strong case of race discrimination. We agreed to represent him on a contingency fee basis. This meant that he did not have to pay us any legal fees unless he won the case.
We immediately drafted and filed a brief in opposition to the former employer's motion to dismiss. While we were drafting that brief, we discovered that the former employer's lawyers had made factual representations to the court that were demonstrably false. We sent the lawyers a letter warning them that we would ask the court for sanctions against them and their client for making false representations.
The former employer quickly agreed to settlement talks. We sent them a very aggressive settlement demand. They initially rejected our settlement demand, but they agreed to participate in a settlement conference with a U.S. Magistrate Judge.
At a settlement conference, we took a hard line on how much the former employer should pay in damages and attorneys' fees. The judge kept pushing both sides to compromise. We stood firm. I knew that what happened to Richard would never have happened to me as a white man. Justice required that the employer pay damages that would compensate Richard for what he had gone through, and that would teach them not to treat people the way they treated him.
The former employer ultimately agreed to our settlement terms. Richard has a new job that pays more than the last one. And his willingness to keep pushing for justice inspires mine.
John Howley, Esq.