Saturday, February 16, 2008

Beware of Filing a Discrimination Case pro se

The Civil Rights arena is a very complex one. It’s not an area of the law well suited for the unwary, nor is it where someone can truly compete without a lawyer. There’s just too much that the lay person is not going to know that is crucial to their case.

For example, most Plaintiffs who file a discrimination lawsuit pro se (unrepresented by counsel) fail to understand the vital role of the process of discovery. It can be difficult for a plaintiff to remain in court with their case even with a lawyer, but without doing proper discovery, the odds are pretty strong that your case is going to be tossed out of court on the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. This is a motion that says, in essence, that there isn’t a material issue of fact raised by the Plaintiff to be tried to the jury or the court. Thus, if the court decides there is no genuine, material issues of fact to be tried, it may issue a judgment for the Defendant, dismissing the case. (This often happens in these cases, even when represented by counsel.)

One of the first things a Plaintiff must do in a case is to obtain discovery. This means, you absolutely must get witness statements in the form of an affidavit, but preferably by deposition, and you must obtain as much documentary evidence as possible that is supportive of your claims. This kind of information (depositions and documents) may enable you to show to the court that there are genuine, material issues of fact that must be decided by the fact-finder (usually, a jury).

Too many Plaintiffs go into court thinking that their words are sufficient, or that co-workers will support their claim, or that somehow there are records that will mysteriously appear to support their complaint. Sometimes that is true. But, such things don’t automatically occur. These are things that have to be unraveled. There are long, wiggly threads of evidence that must be followed, document by document, fact by fact, until you find the “meat,” the substantive fact(s) that support your claim.

So, before you begin piling up your plate, check with a lawyer who has dined in the federal courts and understands the proper way to devour such a plate of legal spaghetti.

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