Pro Se filings
Filing a lawsuit without a lawyer
Many people find that their discrimination cases need to be filed quickly and they can’t get a lawyer. This is usually because they have a “Right to Sue” letter issued by the EEOC or MCHR that is about to expire. See my Discrimination article for more about the EEOC and MCHR and Right to Sue letters and charges of discrimination.
For other people, the problem is a “statute of limitations” deadline that is not related to the EEOC or MCHR process. Each type of employment case carries its own deadlines or statutes of limitations, which are sometimes very difficult to determine.
If you can’t get a lawyer, you can still file a lawsuit. If your case can be filed in Federal Court (you might need a lawyer’s help to figure out where to file your case), call the clerk of the U.S. Eastern District Court in St. Louis - the clerk has a packet of info for people who need to file employment cases and don’t have lawyers. Here’s a link to the U.S. Easten District Court in St. Louis.
If your employer employed fewer than 15 or 20 people (depends on the law), you might have to file a discrimination lawsuit in a Missouri State Court rather than Federal Court. Missouri State Courts don’t give out packets of info to help you, but in the St. Louis area you can go to the SLU or Wash U law libraries and do some research to learn how to file a lawsuit.
If you miss your filing deadline you might be out of options, but not always (See Missed deadlines for some more info). Consider filing a lawsuit even if you don’t have a lawyer (but there are Pros and Cons of Litigation and if your lawsuit is frivolous you might be punished by the court). After you file the lawsuit, you can take a deep breath and relax, because you’ve met your deadline. Then you can continue calling lawyers until you find one to take on your case. Of course, everything you say in your lawsuit will be used against you later, and everything you don’t say may be used against you. See my Complaints article for more info about how lawyers use your statements (and your silence) against you.
The cost to file a discrimination lawsuit is not very high, approximately $160 in most cases, less in some cases, more in others, depending on what court you file in and how many defendants you name. Call the court clerk (the number is usually in your local phone book) for info about the filing fee.
Courts have procedures for allowing you to request the right to file your lawsuit even if you don’t have any money. That’s called “in forma pauperis” (where you certify that you are a pauper). The court may or may not accept you as a pauper. You will make your “in forma pauperis” application at the same time as you file your lawsuit. In my opinion, it’s best to pay the filing fee rather than try to file as a pauper, even if you have to borrow the filing fee from someone.
Tim is a St. Louis Missouri employment lawyer and a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA). Visit NELA.org and the Missouri Bar Website (see the directory of lawyers).