Steps on How to Start a Labor Lawsuit

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Illinois state laws protect your right to minimum wage, overtime rates for nonexempt employees, compensation for all hours worked, and more. Unfortunately, many employers either make errors or willfully violate the law, resulting in significant unpaid compensation for employees. 

If your employer owes you unpaid wages, overtime, or another type of compensation, you should discuss the matter with an experienced labor and employment attorney. You might begin by pointing out the problem to your employer, but they might deny the company owes you wages or simply refuse to properly compensate you. Fortunately, the law gives employees in this situation the right to file a lawsuit to seek back pay from their employers.

The process of preparing and filing a labor lawsuit can be complicated, so you should always have the assistance of an experienced Chicago employment lawyer. The following are some steps on how to begin your labor lawsuit. 

Step 1: Gathering Information

Lawsuit petitions need to be thorough and accurate, so your employment lawyer will need to gather information regarding your situation. Such information can include:

  • Your employer name
  • The size of the company
  • Your job title
  • Your job duties
  • Your salary or hourly wage
  • Your classification as exempt or nonexempt
  • The hours you worked
  • The amount of wages you are owed
  • Whether your employer owes back pay to other employees as well

You will also need to provide documentation, including paychecks, pay statements, employer manuals, and more.

Step 2: Preparing the Petition

A lawsuit begins when someone files a petition, also called a complaint, in court. Petitions can take significant preparation, so it is important to start the process with a lawyer as soon as possible. You only have two years from the date of the violation by your employer to file your lawsuit. After that, the court will almost certainly dismiss the lawsuit. You want to give your lawyer time to prepare a persuasive petition, so you should not wait until the two years is almost up to discuss your case with a labor law firm.

Your complaint must follow the proper format in accordance with court rules, and it must have specific elements to successfully initiate the case, so you always want yours drafted by an experienced litigator. The complaint will identify you as the plaintiff and your employer as the defendant in the case, and it needs to state why the jurisdiction and venue are appropriate. It will also include the facts of the case, as asserted by you. 

Your lawsuit petition must state your legal claim, which will depend on the type of violation that occurred. This can include:

  • Unpaid overtime
  • Unlawful conduct regarding tips
  • Misclassification as an independent contractor
  • Misclassification as exempt
  • Working off the clock
  • Minimum wage violations
  • Not providing a final paycheck
  • Not providing meal or rest breaks as required by law

It is important that the facts stated in the petition support your claims.

The petition should also state the legal relief you are seeking. This would include back pay, as well as possible additional damages if the FLSA violation was willful. You can also seek an injunction to ensure your employer does not continue the violative conduct. 

Step 3: Filing Your Complaint

Your lawyer will then file your complaint with the proper court. If you are claiming FLSA violations, you will need to file your case in federal court, which requires a $400 filing fee. For example, many Chicago employment lawyers file cases in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Federal court procedures are different from Illinois state court, so you need an attorney with experience handling federal cases. Some federal courts require filed petitions to have specific cover sheets, which your lawyer should complete.

Step 4: Serving the Complaint and Summons

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that you properly serve the defendant(s) in a lawsuit with a copy of the complaint, as well as a summons to court. Service must be completed within 90 days by someone who is not a party to the lawsuit. Your lawyer can also request that your employer waives formal service. 

Step 5: Waiting for the Answer

In most cases, your employer will have 21 days to file an answer to your complaint. They can deny your claims, admit some claims but not others, or admit the claims but contest your damages sought. Your lawyer will review the complaint and, if necessary, can file a response to the answer. Once all the pleadings are filed with the court, the lawsuit is in motion.

The Importance of Quality Legal Representation

Litigation is a complex process, and you have your back pay at stake. You need a Chicago employment lawyer who has extensive experience litigating FLSA cases on your side. Many cases end in a pretrial settlement, though some cases do require a jury trial. You want an attorney who is a skilled negotiator but also who knows how to stand up for your rights in court. The right lawyer will also ensure that your lawsuit gets started on the right foot to best ensure a favorable outcome. 

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