Employment discrimination lawsuits take a long time. If you’ve ever been involved in legal dispute before, you probably found the process incredibly slow and frustrating. Unfortunately, the media and Hollywood have painted a false picture of the legal system. On television, you will see a client come into the lawyer’s office for a consultation, and then the very next day the lawyers are litigating that client’s case in front of a jury or signing the settlement agreement. The real legal system is not that efficient. It takes a long time to settle a case. That is especially true for employment discrimination, harassment, & wrongful termination cases.
So how long does a discrimination or harassment case take? Before you continue reading to find out, sign up for our free monthly employment law newsletter! We will email you useful employment information that will help you protect yourself from workplace abuse.
How Long Until Settlement?
Potential clients usually ask our lawyers, “How long will it take to settle my employment case?” The best answer is that “it depends.” Typically, the average employment lawsuit in a California court takes one year or longer to litigate. Higher value cases usually take longer than two years as there is more of a reason for the plaintiff to fight hard to increase the value of the case. Similarly, the employer wants to fight hard to decrease the value of the case. Small cases usually settle under a year as it is not economical for corporations to fight hard. But everyone should recognize that every case is different and you never know how long the case will take when the case begins.
Of course, the case can settle at any time; and thus end earlier than expected. Further, there are various factors that affect the length of a case. For example, a case can be dragged out if defense counsel is difficult to work with or bullheaded. Or a case can be dragged out if the defendant is a difficult client, and thus causing strife between him and his lawyer.
Why Do Employment Cases Take So Long?
Employment cases take a long time because of a multitude of factors:
- The personalities of the plaintiff employee, defendant employer, and the lawyers involved is probably the largest determinant of the length. If everyone can cooperate, the case can usually resolve sooner than if everyone hates each other.
- The experience, expertise, and integrity of the lawyers involved. The better your lawyer, the better he or she can convince the other side that it is in their best interest to settle. For corporations, if you hire an honest lawyer, he or she will give you realistic expectations. Unfortunately, we often experience defense lawyers who mislead their clients in order to lengthen the case because they can get paid more money that way.
- Court backlog. California courts hare overworked and understaffed. Some Judges automatically set trial dates for two years down the road!
- The value of the case is an enormous factor. The more money at stake, the more there is to fight over.
- The Court and Statutory deadlines are long to ensure both parties have adequate time to prepare their case. For example, after a complaint is filed and served on the defendant, the company has 30 days in which to file a response. But corporations can delay filing this by first filing a demurrer or motion to strike. Or they are often granted extensions by Plaintiff’s counsel as a professional courtesy.
- The discovery rules are set up to ensure fairness to both sides. After you send written discovery, the opposing party has a certain amount of time to prepare and send their response.
- It sometimes takes a long time to schedule depositions, defense medical exams, and mediations. Often times, to get a good mediator, you have to schedule them out several months ahead of time.
- The lead up to trial can take a long time, but if there is an appeal afterwards, they usually take a year or more to finish.
- There are many other factors and the above list is barely scratching the surface.
DFEF, EEOC, & Labor Board Case Length
If you cannot find a private lawyer to handle your employment issue, many people use various administrative agencies in California to handle their employment case. The Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) handles harassment and discrimination cases that fall under California law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles harassment & discrimination cases that fall under Federal law (Title VII). Finally, the California Labor Board, or Department of Industrial Relations, handles unpaid wage issues like overtime, unemployment, minimum wage, meal breaks, rest breaks, unreimbursed expenses, etc.
These agencies all have deadlines. First, people need to file their claim with these agencies before the statute of limitations expires. For the DFEH, people need to file their claim within one year of the last act of discrimination or harassment. We don’t recommend that you wait that long. For the EEOC, you need to file your claim within 180 days (sometimes this can be extended to 300 days). Again, we do not recommend that you wait that long. It is generally best to file as soon as you can.
Second, once the case is filed, the agencies have various deadlines that they must comply with. But these agencies are generally flooded with thousands upon thousands of claims, and they don’t have enough employees to filter through all the claims in a time efficient manner. The DFEH and EEOC will sometimes investigate a claim for a year or two, and then simply issue the employee a “right to sue” letter and tell them to get a private employment attorney. That is very frustrating for people.
How Long Will a Discrimination Trial Take?
Trial length in employment cases depends on the facts of the case and the the courtroom’s time limitations. Every judge in California has an extremely large caseload. Judge’s try very hard to give the lawyers time to present their case. But unfortunately, most employment trials must be completed in a week or two. That means each side generally has four to five days to put on their case. For complex cases, the Court may give them more time. It is not unusual for a trial to take a month or longer.
What About an Appeal?
If the case is not resolved by the trial or settlement, and one party appeals the case for whatever the reason, the case will almost assuredly be extended by one year. Appeals take a long time to write. The CA Code of Civil procedure gives the opposing side a long time to answer the appeal. Then, a hearing must be scheduled for oral argument. Then, once the appellate court has issued its ruling, it remands the case back to the trial court to follow its decision. Sometimes, parties have to re-try the case in front of a new jury.
Overall, employment discrimination cases take a long time. You can typically expect your case, if its a high value case to last more than two years. If its a middle of the road case, and your lawyer is efficient, it will take more than a year, but generally not more than two. If your employment case has a low value (under $25,000), then the case usually resolves quicker than a year. But all of these estimates are not predictions. Every case is different.
If you want to know how long your particular case will take, consult with a employment lawyer. The lawyer can hear your facts, research the defense lawyer, and then give you a estimate.