Answer: It depends on the terms of your employment and the basis of your lawsuit. Most employees may sue their employers directly in court, without having to go through an administrative proceeding or other process first. That's not always the case, however. You may not be able to sue your employer directly if:
- You want to sue for discrimination. Before you can file a discrimination lawsuit, you must first file an administrative charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a similar state agency. Once the agency gives you a right to sue letter, you may go ahead with your lawsuit. (For more information, see Right to Sue Letter From the EEOC.)
- You want to sue for harassment. If you are considering a harassment claim, you also have to file a charge with an administrative agency first, as with a discrimination claim. For certain types of harassment, you must also be able to show that you complained to your employer first, using the company's internal procedures. If not, you may not be able to hold the employer liable for your mistreatment.
- You signed an arbitration agreement. Some employers require employees to sign a contract, agreeing that they will bring any disputes with their employer to arbitration rather than filing a lawsuit. If you signed this type of document, you may not be able to sue your employer. Unless you can show that the agreement is invalid, you will have to bring your claims in an arbitration proceeding, rather than in court.
- You signed a release or waiver. If you signed an agreement not to sue (for example, as part of a severance or settlement agreement), you have given up your right to sue the employer. Unless you can show that the agreement is invalid, you won't be able to file a lawsuit.
- You are in a union. If you are a union member, you may have to grieve your dispute through its process rather than going straight to court.
If you believe you have a wrongful termination claim against your employer, you should consult with an employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you figure out the best way to protect your rights.