“How can I get more time to file a discrimination lawsuit?”

Question: Last year I named my boss’s boss in a discrimination complaint that I filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or “EEOC.” Since then, he picks on me, mocks me and harasses me every chance he gets.

Yesterday he went so far as to intentionally strike my wrist while I was carrying a box, which caused me to drop the box, and other items I was carrying, on my other hand. Thank goodness there was a witness to what happened. Afterwards, I filed a police report and filed an email complaint with my immediate supervisor.

Right now I have only four more weeks before my “right to sue” time limit runs out.  Is there any way I can file for an extension? I have looked for legal help from four different employment attorneys, with no takers. I need more time to find a lawyer. How do I go about getting an extension of time to sue?

Lenexa, Kansas

Answer: Dear JJ:   

Sorry to hear about your circumstances. Although I am not licensed to practice law in Kansas, I can share with you insights and information I have from my many years of helping people in your situation: 

1. With only very few exceptions, you cannot get an extension of time, by law. While it is common for people who start lawsuits – called “plaintiffs” – to request more time to file their legal papers, the way the federal discrimination laws read has been interpreted by most courts as not to allow any extensions of time in this situation. Neither the EEOC, your employer nor the Court is free to give you the extension of time you need. So, the 90 days that your “Right to Sue” letter gives you to file a suit – or forever lose your right to do so – is not flexible. In fact, if you go one day over that time period, it is “fatal” to your case. 

2. To protect your rights, you need to file the initial lawsuit papers by yourself, which is not that hard to do, and common for employees complaining of workplace discrimination. I know it sounds complicated to do, but a good number of people in your situation file their initial lawsuit papers on their own. This is called proceeding “Pro Se,” which is a Latin phrase that means “For Oneself.” In fact so many people file lawsuits on their own that almost every federal court has a special office called the “Pro Se Office,” and a special clerk called a “Pro Se Clerk” to help people like yourself do so. 

3. Then you can ask the Judge for more time before going forward, to find a lawyer. Once you have met your deadline for filing your initial lawsuit papers, the Judge assigned to your case is in charge, and he or she can then grant you extensions of time to locate legal counsel before the lawsuit proceeds further. Might I suggest that you consider contacting the attorney referral services of the Bar Associations in your area to find a qualified employment law attorney to help you go forward. Please understand that most Judges are very courteous and even helpful to people in your situation. In fact, some people even continue to represent themselves in these cases, all the way to a trial, although I think it would probably be best if you could have an attorney do that for you.   

4. Incidentally, you seem to have a second legal claim: retaliation. From the facts you’ve mentioned, it seems like the person about whom you have complained may be retaliating against you for doing so. That, too, is a likely violation of the law against discrimination; many people consider such retaliation to be more serious and loathsome than the original discrimination. I urge you to promptly file a second complaint with the EEOC describing this retaliation. Then, when you file your Court Complaint, mention in it that you have done so; when you receive your second “Right to Sue” letter regarding the retaliation, which should be rather promptly, you can then add it to your already-filed lawsuit. 

If you’d like to obtain a list of experienced employment law attorneys in Overland Park, Kansas, which is close to where you live, simply [click here].

Good luck in going forward, and congratulations to you. Experience teaches us that the price of freedom is vigilance. It’s only because people like you stand up for their legal rights that many people are careful to show respect for all of our legal rights.    

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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