the Anatomy of a
This article tracks the anatomy of a typical
federal court lawsuit in which the plaintiff is suing for employment discrimination. But
the same basic principles apply whether the suit involves employment discrimination or
not, and whether the case is in federal or state court.
Also, many employment discrimination laws require
that a plaintiff "exhaust his or her administrative remedies" before a lawsuit
can be filed. To learn more about this subject, read:
an Employment Discrimination Claim.
Beginning of a Lawsuit
A lawsuit begins when someone goes to the
courthouse and files a complaint against someone else. The person suing is the
The person or company being sued is the defendant. A complaint is a document which
explains who the plaintiff is, who the defendant is and why the plaintiff is suing the
defendant. The complaint must be filed within the applicable statute of limitations.
A statute of limitations is a law (sometimes a state law and sometimes a federal law)
which limits how long a plaintiff can wait before bringing suit.
When the plaintiff files a complaint, he or she
also files a summons. The summons provides the address of the defendant and
explains to the defendant that it (or he or she) has been sued and it has only so many
days to respond. The complaint and the summons are served on the defendant --
typically by a sheriff's deputy (in a state court lawsuit), a federal marshal (in a
federal court lawsuit) or via certified or registered mail.
Upon receipt of the complaint and summons, the
defendant has only so many days to file a response (in federal court it is 21 days). The
response usually filed is an answer. The answer responds to each allegation in the
complaint by either admitting the allegation, denying the allegation or stating that the
defendant does not have sufficient knowledge to either admit or deny the allegation. Also,
the defendant will raise any defenses it has to the lawsuit in the answer. For
example, if the defendant believes that the lawsuit was not filed within the statute of
limitations, it will assert the statute of limitations as a defense.
However, instead of filing an answer, the
defendant can file a motion to dismiss. This motion basically says that there is a
clear-cut reason why this lawsuit should be dismissed right off the bat. For example,
let's assume John Doe sued his employer for age discrimination alleging that he
was fired at the age of 39 and replaced by someone who is 19. His employer might move
to dismiss the lawsuit because someone who is 39 is not protected by the federal age
discrimination laws (you must be at least 40).
Of course, there are countless other reasons a
defendant might file a motion to dismiss. If a motion to dismiss is filed, then the
plaintiff must file a response. The court will then rule on the motion. If the motion is
then the lawsuit is over. If the motion is denied, then the lawsuit continues.