The Right to Sue and Ninety Day Letters

Jurors in the jury box

  • Right to Sue Letters
  • Ninety Day Letters
  •  Filing in Agencies
  • When to File in Court
  • Finance and Attorney Fees
  • Verdicts and Damages

Filing a lawsuit in court is often the only way to obtain justice for wrongs inflicted in the work place. The person filing the lawsuit is the plaintiff and the person, or company, being sued is the defendant. In a law suit the facts and  law are presented in court and either a judge or a jury will decide upon a verdict. If the verdict is in favor of the plaintiff, the court will usually enter a judgment for an amount of money to be paid to the plaintiff for physical injury, emotional suffering, attorney fees, litigation costs, lost wages and other damages. Sometimes the plaintiff is awarded money as punitive damages, similar to a fine, as a deterrent. Amounts of money depend on a number of factors including the strength of the evidence, the degree of harm caused, the severity of wrongful behavior, and the amount of losses such as lost wages. If a verdict is for the defendant, the plaintiff will get no money for that claim and may be required to pay the defendant for costs and expenses.

A lawsuit can be an extremely expensive undertaking for both the plaintiff and the defendant. Attorney’s fees can be substantial as can incidental costs such as court fees, expert witness fees, court reporter fees, and civil process fees.  These can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The plaintiff, having the burden of proving the case, often bears the brunt of initial expenses. Because many plaintiffs cannot afford to hire an attorney the law provides ways for plaintiffs to bring law suits they could not otherwise afford. Among these are contingency fee agreements, whereby the plaintiff’s attorney is paid only if money damages are recovered. A contingency fee typically involves a percentage of the amount recovered being paid to that attorney.  Other provisions, such as the payment of costs and attorney fees to the prevailing party, may also provide greater access to justice for a lower income plaintiff.

The legal right to file a law suit varies depending upon the applicable law, the facts, the elapsed time, and the venue where the facts took place.

In some civil rights cases, administrative proceedings must be completed before a case can be tried in court. For example, many discrimination cases must first with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or its state agency equivalent. There is a time limit within which a claim must be filed with the EEOC. Depending upon the jurisdiction, it can be as little as 180 days after the discriminatory act. In these cases the EEOC must be given time to investigate, evaluate, and if appropriate, assist the parties in settling the claim. During that time a lawsuit may not be filed.

The EEOC may issue a right-to-sue letter, also called a ninety-day-letter.  A 90 day letter issued by the EEOC says that the EEOC is not going to pursue the matter further and the claimant may file a case in court.  The case must be filed within 90 days, after the letter is received, or the claim is lost.

Anyone who receives a 90 day letter from the EEOC should consult legal counsel at once. It takes significant time and work to prepare a case for filing in court and ninety days leaves no time for delay. If the case is to be filed in court, preparations should commence immediately after the 90 day letter is issued.