How Does the Process Work?
The nuts and bolts of the various forms of sexual harassment claims are discussed in other articles, which can be found on this page. This article will explain, in plain language, how the legal process works for the victim of sexual harassment. In general, the process goes through six (6) stages: (1) finding the right attorney, (2) the initial client interview, (3) the demand, (4) the filing, (5) the discovery, and (6) the litigation stage. Throughout the entire process, it is critical that you are honest with yourself and your attorney. Naturally, the first place to start is to find an attorney who you believe will advocate zealously on your behalf.
STAGE 1: Finding the Right Attorney
Across the nation and in California especially, there are a lot of attorneys. Like most things, there are a handful of truly exceptional attorneys, a handful of truly terrible attorneys, and the vast majority of attorneys are average. Another factor to keep in mind when looking for the right attorney is that you will generally get what you pay for; terrible attorneys will (but don’t always) charge less than the average and exceptional attorneys – once you have found an attorney you like, compare their rates, and see if their previous clients validate that attorney’s skill-level.
What you are ultimately looking for, is a law firm that will give you, and your case, individualized attention. Many law firms lump cases with similar facts together, and treat them in a template fashion, forgetting that their clients are real people with real problems. We know that if someone is seeking legal representation, they are going through a significant problem in their lives – we know you are an individual who deserves individual attention. Once you have found an attorney or law firm who you believe will adequately represent you, the next step is to have an initial client interview. This is where you have the opportunity to meet your legal representation, and they get the opportunity to get to know you and your case.
STAGE 2: The Initial Client Interview
As mentioned above, the Initial Client Interview is an opportunity for both you and your potential attorney to get to know each other; essentially determining if they are a good fit for what you need. The Initial Client Interview also allows the potential attorney to obtain a snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of your case; this snapshot will allow a skilled attorney to identify a plan of attack to follow.
- Getting to Know Each other
Many people forget that the Initial Client Interview is an opportunity for them, as well as for the attorney; the client rarely asks probing questions of their potential representation – we encourage you to do so. It is important to know that you are in good hands. Ask your attorney how long they have been in practice, how many sexual harassment cases they’ve handled, how many jury trials they’ve participated in, how they generally do in these cases. No questions are off limits, and attorneys appreciate knowing they have a client who cares about who is representing them.
- Providing the Attorney With a Snapshot of the Strength and Weaknesses of Your Case
Once the Initial Client Interview is scheduled, it is prudent for you to start putting together every piece of information relating to your employment and the sexual harassment you have been a victim of. Below is a non-exhaustive list of things you should try to bring with you to your Initial Client Interview:
- Screenshots of text messages from the person who has been sexually harassing you – Many people forget that even if a text message isn’t itself harassing, harassment can be proven circumstantially (i.e., with evidence that isn’t direct proof of harassment). For example: The individual who has been sexually harassing you sends you a text message every weekend asking what you are doing on that weekend. These text messages do not directly show harassment, but it does show at the very least a lack of respect for boundaries, and could possibly be tied into other circumstantial evidence to support a claim of harassment. Remember, most people who have sexually harassed an employee don’t come out and say they did it, your attorney will have to prove it through circumstantial evidence.
- A list of all phone calls outside of working hours that the person who has been sexually harassing you has called you – For similar reasons as those above, excessive phone calls can suggest improper conduct.
- Voicemails from the person who has been sexually harassing you
- E-mails from the person who has been sexually harassing you
- A list of co-workers who have either seen, or experienced, sexual harassment from the person who is sexually harassing you
- Evidence of any complaints you have made about the sexual harassment (e-mails and texts to friends or supervisors)
Remember, this list is not exhaustive. Anything that suggests that the individual who is sexually harassing you conducts themselves in an inappropriate manner towards you could be helpful.
In this stage, it is imperative that you are completely honest with your attorney – we are here to help pursue the legal remedies you are entitled to, not to judge. Most times, information that a client believes is damning to their case would not be damning if the attorney knew about it upfront; the major hiccups in a case usually occur when significant information is dropped on your attorney later in the process. A common omission is that the client was once intimately involved with the Defendant. Your previous interaction with the person who is sexually harassing you does not change the nature of their actions today. An attorney who knows, and anticipates, that the defense is going to bring that up can be prepared to shut that line of reasoning down. Remember; just because sexual advances were once welcomed, that does not give someone a lifetime pass to continue making unwanted advances.
Once you have determined that you would like to be represented by the attorney you are interviewing, and you have provided them with information they can base their legal opinion on, your attorney will send what is known as a “demand letter.”
STAGE 3: The Demand Letter
Once you have retained your attorney, and they have reviewed all of the information you have provided them, your attorney will send an informal letter to the Defendant – a “demand letter.” In this letter, your attorney informs the Defendant of the laws relating to sexual harassment, and how the application of the facts of your case to the law shows that the Defendant is in violation of that law. The “demand letter” also informs the Defendant of your approximate damages, and invites them to make a settlement offer of that amount to avoid litigation on the case. The “demand letter” frequently opens the door to settlement negotiations, which generally results in a satisfactory outcome. In the event that the Defendant is unwilling to settle your claim, the next step is formal litigation. Litigation begins when the attorney files your claim with the Court.
STAGE 4: The Filing Stage
The filing stage is started, and completed, when your attorney files a Complaint with the Court. The Complaint will inform the Court of the facts of your case, and allege a violation of any numbers of laws. While you initially retained counsel for sexual harassment, you may have been the victim of other legal violations. By providing your attorney with all the information during your Initial Interview, your attorney may have identified several other violations of the law. Once your case has been filed, the case will move into “discovery.” Discovery is the process of obtaining information and evidence, which will be used during the actual trial. Keep in mind that the Defendant can settle at any time; the case does not necessarily need to go to trial just because you have filed a Complaint.
STAGE 5: The Discovery Stage
As mentioned above, the “Discovery” stage is where both parties obtain information and evidence to be used at trial. The discovery stage will usually involve: (1) Form Interrogatories, (2) Special Interrogatories, (3) Requests for Admissions, (4) Request for Production of Documents, and (5) Deposition.
- Form Interrogatories
Form Interrogatories are a series of standard questions, which you will have to answer honestly. These questions generally request general background information on your claim. Your attorney will assist you in responding to these Interrogatories.
- Special Interrogatories
Special Interrogatories are a second series of questions, which you will have to answer honestly. Special interrogatories are different than Form Interrogatories are different than Form Interrogatories because they ask much more specific questions about the facts and allegations underlying your claims against the Defendant. Your attorney will assist you in responding to these Interrogatories.
- Requests for Admissions
Requests for Admissions simply ask that you admit or deny certain facts underlying your claims against the Defendant your attorney will assist you in responding to these Requests.
- Request for Production of Documents
The Request for Production of Documents is precisely what it sounds like, a request for documents that support or contradict various claims of your complaint.
A deposition is akin to trial, where you have been called as a witness. There are a few key differences between trial and a deposition. Most importantly, the deposition does not occur in front of a judge or jury, the deposition is simply another tool to gain information and evidence to be used at trial. Your deposition testimony can be introduced at trial, which is why it is important to tell the truth. The entire deposition will be transcribed, and you will have an opportunity to correct any inaccuracies you may have mistakenly provided at the deposition.
Discovery can be a very stressful experience for victims of sexual harassment. Good attorneys are aware of this, and will help prepare you for that stress – have faith in your legal representation, they are there to help you.
Many victims of sexual harassment worry that embarrassing information will come out during the discovery stage. There are several rules of evidence that are designed to protect the victims of these types of crime from having their personal lives placed on trial. To put it bluntly, many Plaintiffs in sexual harassment claims are worried that their sex-lives will be placed on trial; the evidence code protects against this. It is increasingly difficult for opposing parties to bring in evidence of your prior sexual conduct, as well as any sexual predispositions you might have. Further, a skilled attorney will fight vigorously against anything that even remotely resembles that type of evidence from coming into evidence. In short, your attorney is on your team – introducing embarrassing information solely for the purpose of attacking your character is unacceptable on any level.
While the actual trial process is beyond the scope of this article, it is sufficient to say that once the case goes to trial your attorney will be well prepared to actively fight on your behalf.
When you’re ready, or if you have questions, feel free to contact us