This is a tip not only for employees, but also for employers and anyone else who is thinking about litigation.
If you are thinking of filing a civil lawsuit, or gearing up for a vigorous defense of a lawsuit (e.g. “we’re not going to pay that s.o.b. a dime”), you should know that starting or prolonging a lawsuit is only good for a select few things (see below).
What a lawsuit is NOT good at doing is proving a “principle,” or obtaining any type of emotional satisfaction. To the contrary, the longer the litigation goes, both parties in a lawsuit usually become more and more emotionally-drained. Usually, both parties, and especially the defendant/respondent, become more financially-drained over time. (This disadvantage does not apply to the parties’ lawyers, who often get paid more the longer things go).
Filing a lawsuit can accomplish some important things: namely, filing a lawsuit can get the plaintiff paid. The plaintiff can be paid money to replace money that was lost, or money paid to compensate the plaintiff for an injury suffered. Filing a lawsuit can also help leverage a settlement in which important non-financial terms can be agreed to. For example, in the context of an employment matter settlement, an employee litigant may be able to obtain a letter of reference, the employer’s agreement not to disparage the employee or provide negative reference information, etc. The foregoing non-financial and financial goals can often be achieved through a lawsuit.
However, if you pursue a lawsuit because you are searching for a result in which you feel “vindicated” or prove a “point” or “principle,” you are almost certain to be disappointed. And you’ll wind up lighter in the wallet than civil litigants who set “principle” aside.
Having opposed hundreds of employers, I have seen many assess their financial risks and agree to reasonable settlements, but I have yet to see one opponent admit they were wrong, or say they were sorry. While a judge or jury may find your opponent was wrong, litigants are often disappointed to find that actors in the legal system (investigators, judges, juries, etc.) do not feel the same passion as you about the alleged injustice done. Rather, the legal world- as it should- usually treats litigants’ matters in an independent, logical manner and if you are victorious you may be paid (even paid well), but there will be no glowing moment of emotional recognition or “vindication.”
If you want to fight something out of “principle,” you can do that by writing your congressperson, your local newspaper, a community organization, etc. and taking action (lobbying, volunteering, etc.) to remedy the injustices you perceive.
Don’t pursue or prolong a lawsuit out of “principle.” Prolong a lawsuit only when doing so is the best means to achieve a tangible, realistic result.