I’m employment lawyer Jonathan Pollard. Today’s topic: Lawyers who charge for filing with the EEOC. Up until a couple weeks ago, I didn’t know this was a thing. But apparently it is.
Our St. Louis office recently got a call from a man who wanted to pursue a race discrimination case. His case was pending in front of the EEOC. His current lawyer did not litigate cases. That’s right: His lawyer only filed EEOC charges and settled cases. Never filed a lawsuit. Never litigated a case. Only negotiated settlements pre-suit.
So, this man – let’s call him Dave – went through the EEOC process. And at the end of that process, the company was only offering something nominal like $5,000. Dave did not want to accept that offer because he thought he had a strong case. At that point, Dave’s lawyer advised Dave that he would have to find a lawyer who would file a lawsuit and pursue the case in court.
So Dave calls our office. We evaluate the case. In our view, Dave has a strong case. He has direct evidence of discrimination (racist comments, Confederate flag in the workplace, etc). And he was terminated for complaining about this to HR. THAT is a strong case.
We get 400 to 500 inquires every week. We are incredibly selective. And we are willing to take Dave’s case as far as we need to go. That means file a lawsuit, spend a year or more in litigation, invest hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars, go through the discovery process, take depositions, do mediation, respond to the other side’s efforts to get the case dismissed, and – ultimately – take the case to trial if that’s what we need to do. Because it’s a strong case. In my view, the case is worth at least $300,000 in settlement value.
BUT: There is absolutely no chance the company will pay a reasonable dollar amount until we file a lawsuit and spend a year or more in litigation.
Companies Generally Don’t Settle for Real Money Pre-Suit
Sidebar: This is the reality: Most companies are not willing to settle cases pre-suit for anything close to what a case is worth. Suppose the case is legitimately worth $300,000 or more. Pre-suit, companies in that type of case will often offer ballpark $25,000. Why? Because:
(a) Lots of employees will accept that sort of lowball offer because they desperately need the money
(b) Lots of plaintiff-side employment lawyers will encourage employees to accept that offer because they want to make quick and easy money
(c) Getting more money than that requires time and hard work and
(d) Companies know they have more money and more lawyers and anticipate that they can just wear you down over time and get you to cave.
So, consistent with this, Dave’s company is not willing to pay anything real pre-suit. MAYBE they would go up to $30,000. But we say that is not enough. And we tell Dave that it’s his choice, but we believe the case is worth much more. And to get more, we have to file a lawsuit in court and litigate the case.
Sidebar: Don’t get it twisted. I’m talking about real, strong cases. If your case is a weak case or no case at all, then sure, you take whatever money you can get. But we don’t get involved in weak cases. We have better things to do.
… $300 for an EEOC Charge
Then we learn something from Dave: His prior lawyer charged him $300 to file a charge with the EEOC. Let me tell you how I feel about that (and I’ll be blunt):
We get hundreds of possible discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment cases every week. We turn away more than 90% of these people from the jump. Why? We don’t think they have a case. That leaves about 10% of possible cases that we consider and evaluate. Do we charge people money for that? No.
If we think a case is strong, and that case needs to go through the EEOC process, do we charge $300 for filing with the EEOC? No way. Why? Because we believe in the case. We plan to litigate the case. And we plan to take the case as far as necessary to get what we consider a reasonable dollar amount. If that means taking the case to trial, that’s fine with us.
If you have a strong case involving discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, etc — then you should be able to find a lawyer who will not charge you to evaluate the case, file an EEOC charge, and pursue litigation.
Avoid Settlement Mills and Fees for an EEOC Charge
Here’s what to do if you have a strong employment case.
- Make sure any law firm you are going to work with actually files lawsuits and pursues employment cases in court. In other words, make sure the law firm is not just a settlement mill. Do some homework. Google is your friend. You can pretty quickly figure this stuff out.
- Identify your first choice lawyer / law firm. See if they will consider your case. If not, call your second choice firm. Once a firm is willing to consider the case, find out if you have to pay anything up front — such as for an EEOC charge to be filed. If they say yes, you have to pay something like $300 for an EEOC charge …. just run the other way. And call another firm.
- Call 4 or 5 law firms if you need to. Why? Because not all lawyers will have the same opinion of your possible case. 3 or 4 law firms might turn you away. But the 5th firm has a different perspective and thinks you have a strong case.
- Only ever pay someone to file an EEOC charge if you will otherwise run out of time and possibly lose your right to pursue a lawsuit — It should be an option of last resort.
Just remember: A lawyer who thinks you have a strong case should be willing to (a) file an EEOC charge for you without making you pay anything for that and (b) pursue litigation if that’s what is necessary to get you fair compensation.
Jonathan Pollard is an employment lawyer and the founder of Pollard PLLC. Pollard and his colleagues have litigated, arbitrated, or mediated hundreds of employment cases. The firm routinely represents clients in discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, and sexual assault cases. Pollard and his colleagues have been honored by Super Lawyers and ranked by Chambers & Partners. The firm has offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and St. Louis. The firm’s main office can be reached at 954-332-2380.