After being fired from a job, many employees are just plain mad. They are angry. They want a way to get back at the company, get back at the employer, supervisor, or manager that fired them. These newly fired attorneys will consult with our attorneys looking for potential claims. Because, unlike many firms, attorneys handle our new client intake consultations, we have an advantage in finding and identifying potential claims. But sometimes those claims are not there. At that point, we often ask our potential clients this very simple question: “Would you rather be given an honest answer to know where you stand, or would you prefer to be told false advice that makes you happy?” Almost all these potential clients chose honesty.
Sometimes the best approach is to pursue only one or two stronger claims as opposed to adding on some very weak claims, which often my discredit the employee or weaken the stronger claims.
Not all, however, will accept an attorney’s advice that there is no claim or limited claims worth pursuing. Some, as they should, seek the advice of other attorneys at other law firms. Still, some decide to go it alone.
Meet Veletta Coleman who tried to go it alone is suing the Social Security Administration for employment discrimination and wrongful termination, among other things. See Coleman v. Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 21-10399, 2023 WL 2660167, at *1 (5th Cir. Mar. 28, 2023). Social Security Administration moved to dismiss Coleman’s complaint because it was deficient on its face. Let’s break down a few of her claims to show why going it alone it typically a mistake.
What does pro se mean in legal cases?
“Pro se” is a Latin phrase that means “for oneself.” In the context of legal cases, it refers to representing oneself in court without the assistance of an attorney. Pro se litigants are individuals who choose to represent themselves in legal proceedings, either because they cannot afford an attorney or because they want to handle their case personally.
Pro se litigants are responsible for preparing and presenting their own legal arguments and evidence, and for following the rules and procedures of the court. While pro se litigants have the right to represent themselves, they are held to the same standards as attorneys in terms of their knowledge of the law and their ability to effectively present their case.
It’s important to note that pro se representation can be challenging, as the legal system can be complex and difficult to navigate. It’s often recommended that individuals seek the advice of an attorney before deciding to represent themselves in court.
Best Employee’s Rights Lawyer Blogs on Point:
- It’s Critical To Hire Good Attorneys And Tell Them Everything
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What are the elements of a hostile work environment claim under Title VII?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination and harassment based on the employee’s race/color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. To state a hostile-work-environment claim, an employee must allege all of the following in the complaint filed with the court:
- the employee belongs to a protected group;
- the employee was subjected to unwelcome harassment;
- the harassment complained of was based on the employee’s membership in one of the Title VII protected classes;
- the harassment complained of affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and
- the employer knew or should have known of the harassment in question and failed to take prompt remedial action.
“Title VII does not prohibit all harassment.” Gardner v. CLC of Pascagoula, L.L.C., 915 F.3d 320, 325 (5th Cir. 2019) (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 67 (1986)). A legally hostile work environment will be found to exist only “when the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult … that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.”
Id. (omission in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993)). Courts will consider the “totality of the circumstances” by looking at the “frequency” and “severity” of the alleged misconduct to determine if a workplace was abusive. Harvill v. Westward Commc’ns, L.L.C., 433 F.3d 428, 434 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting Harris, 510 U.S. at 23).
Coleman’s complaint failed on several levels. First, she asserted several facts that had nothing to do with being in a protected class, including that on her first day, another employee screamed at Coleman for parking in the wrong space; the SSA changed her mailbox size; the SSA scheduled her lunches and breaks at time that she did not like; coworkers spread false rumors and invited customers to write negative reviews about her; and that her supervisor altered her time card and filed a false police report about her husband. Beyond, none of these have anything to do with Coleman being in a protected class, getting in trouble for parking in the wrong spot and the size of a mailbox is never likely to be viewed as any type of adverse action by a court. When pressed in responding to the Motion to Dismiss, Coleman first identified that a coworker “intentionally sexually harassed [her] by referring to her as his ‘work wife,’” and requested that she “bend over the right way;” and that her supervisor sexually harassed her by “discussing his shoe size while simultaneously touching his private part.”
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that these belated allegations were not enough to save the day: “Accepting Coleman’s sexual harassment allegations as true, as we must, they are undoubtedly inappropriate.” Still, setting aside the issue of whether the sexual and non-sexual allegations amount to harassment under Title VII, we agree with the district court that Coleman failed to plead that the SSA knew or had reason to know and failed to take remedial action.” Coleman at *3 (footnote omitted).
Best Hostile Workplace Attorney Blogs on Point:
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What are the element of an age discrimination claim?
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) is a United States federal law that prohibits employment discrimination against individuals who are 40 years of age or older. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees. Under the ADEA, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual based on their age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, or job training. The ADEA also makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate on the basis of age or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.
To sufficiently state a claim for age discrimination, a complaint must set forth facts to support the following elements:
- the employee was within the protected age class, i.e., being over 40 years old;
- the employee was qualified for the position;
- the employee suffered an adverse employment decision; and
- the employer replaced the employee with someone substantially younger or treated the employee less favorably than similarly situated younger employees.
In Coleman, Coleman asserted in her lawsuit that that the SSA intentionally discriminated against her based on her age when scheduling breaks. While it is doubtful that the time of a break would be considered an adverse employment decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Coleman’s claim on a much simpler omission on her part: “Coleman failed to plead her age. She also did not list her age in her response to the SSA’s motion to dismiss. That alone is sufficient to dismiss her discrimination claim.” Id. at *4. Certainly, if you are going to bring an age discrimination case, you must at the very least tell the Court your age.
Best Age Discrimination Law Firm Blogs on Point:
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How do I state a claim of disability discrimination?
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal law that was passed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment and was designed to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Under the ADA, individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination in all aspects of employment, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, promotions, and compensation. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Similar protections are provided to federal employees under the Rehabilitation Act.
To state a claim of disability discrimination under the ADA, the employee must sufficient facts in the complaint to show that:
- the employee has a disability as defined by the ADA;
- the employee is otherwise qualified for the job or benefit in question;
- the employee was subjected to an adverse employment action or denied a benefit because of a disability;
- the employer knew or should have known about the disability; and
- there is a causal connection between the disability and the adverse employment action or denial of benefit.
Once again, Coleman failed to provided the most elementary element of a disability discrimination claim. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held:
Central to the disability and failure-to-accommodate claims is a requirement that the plaintiff have a disability. Here, as the district court reasoned, Coleman failed to plead that she has a disability. In the amended complaint, Coleman concluded that she was “intentionally and repeatedly treated differently than others similarly situated because of her disability.” She provided detail that she was discriminated against on the basis of her disability when the SSA scheduled daily breaks and lunches and with respect to her compensation. She also stated that she “ ‘repeatedly requested’ reasonable accommodations” that the SSA “refused and denied.” But Coleman neglected to state the nature and extent of her disability, nor any of the accommodations that she required.
Best Disability Discrimination Attorney Blogs on Point:
- Disabled Employees Must Be Able To Do Central Function Of Job
- Is Firing Wrongful Based On Potential Symptoms Of Undiagnosed Condition?
- Can I Sue For Wrongful Termination If My Doctor Says I Can No Longer Work?
- ADA Accommodations: What Info Do I Need To Give My Job?
Do I have an employment discrimination or wrongful termination case that is worth pursuing?
The only way to find out if you were wrongfully fired or terminated or may have a race, national origin, gender, LGBTQ+, age, religion or disability claim is to consult with a qualified employee’s rights law firm. How can you do that? Call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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