How do I build my case?
To build a winning employment law case, the burden is on you and/or your attorney to gather evidence, both written and oral, that is specific, accurate, and objective. Even if you don’t end up in court, you need to have a case that a judge could find credible in order for your employer to consider settling the claim in your favor.
Step 1: Gather Documents
Gather and put in chronological order all of the documents that you can find concerning your employment-every pay stub, every memo, and every handwritten note. Try, within your company’s rules, to get copies of the following:
- Performance evaluations
- Disciplinary warnings or reprimands
- Letters of thanks or praise (from managers, customers, or co-workers)
- Internal memos
- Company bulletins
- Attendance record
- Any document stating the reason for your dismissal
- Handbooks, manuals, or other documents describing work rules, policies, and procedures
- Pension benefits and retirement plan information
- Documents related to your unemployment compensation claim
- Copies of work assignments
- Organizational charts, diagrams, floor plans, etc.
Do not take documents or access information to which you have no right and are not entitled.
Step 2: Identify Witnesses
If you think co-workers or others observed your wrongful treatment, make a list of their names, addresses, and home telephone numbers, along with a summary of what you expect them to say – whether good or bad. The “bad” or unfriendly witnesses are especially important to discuss with your attorney so that he or she can evaluate the damage they might do to your case.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Ask friendly witnesses to give you a written statement of anything they saw or heard in person regarding your situation as soon as you decide to take action against your employer. Written statements are important as memories fade over time.
Make sure the witnesses state only the facts of which they are personally aware and give specific examples of what they have seen themselves or what they were told directly. General statements such as, “Everyone knew that the supervisor was out to get her,” are not helpful to your case.
Get statements that specify the who, what, when, and where of the discriminatory or otherwise unlawful action, such as your employer’s yelling at you or interfering with your work. If possible, have the written statement signed in front of a Notary Public.
The most useful witness statements are fact-intensive and unembellished by anger toward your employer or by friendship to you. They should be detailed enough so that whoever reads them – the court, an attorney, or an agency investigator – will see the “big picture.”
If you know of employees who were mistreated in the same way you were, ask them for statements about the way they were treated. If your supervisor, for example, made insulting and demeaning remarks to you and other workers, get statements from the other co-workers that quote or paraphrase the remarks, give the dates on which they were made, and name any others who were present.
Step 3: Putting it All Together
The importance of documents, emails, texts, and witnesses cannot be overstated. In many employment cases, the employee must show that the employer’s stated reason for termination is a pretext – that is, a reason that is not the true reason for the termination decision, but rather one given to cover it up.
There are many ways to show pretext, including evidence that the employer’s reason has changed over time, is contradicted by specific facts, has not been consistently applied to other employees under similar circumstances, and so on.
There must be enough evidence of pretext for a reasonable jury to disbelieve the employer’s stated reason. Once it does that, the jury is allowed to find that discrimination or retaliation was the real reason for the termination decision.
Good cases are not built on pretext alone. In addition to pretext, it is very helpful to have evidence of discriminatory comments made by supervisors or decision-makers, as well as comparative evidence showing that the employer treated others more favorably or less favorably. At the end of the day, you and your lawyer want to build the most comprehensive and persuasive case possible to show that the employer broke the law when it fired you.
This requires much hard work, evidence gathering, and careful thought. There is simply no way to approach employment discrimination, retaliation, or sexual harassment case and expect to do it quickly or easily. At our law firm, we pride ourselves on investing the time and energy to build the best possible case for our clients to maximize the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated in some fashion, contact the Lamberton Law Firm to see if you may have a case against your employer.