Glossary of Terms
and General Chronology
A List of Important Terms in
Employment Law with Definitions
Age Discrimination. Choice for hiring, termination, or adverse employment
action based solely on the workers age (over age 40).
Answer. An answer is filed in response to a complaint. In an answer,
the defendant will either admit or deny allegations contained in the complaint.
Back-pay award. The difference between actual wages or salary paid and
higher wages or salary paid retroactively, usually in an employment discrimination
Collective Bargaining Agreement. A contract between an employer and
its employees generally negotiated by a union on behalf of all of the employees
within its bargaining unit.
Complaint and Summons. These are the first papers filed in any lawsuit.
The complaint will list the facts which the plaintiff believes supports her claims.
The summons documents that the papers have been properly served.
Confidentiality and the Attorney-Client Privilege. Beginning with the
initial consultation, everything you say to your attorney is confidential, whether
or not you hire the attorney. Neither the attorney nor staff persons can ever
disclose what you say. Exceptions to the attorney-client privilege are knowledge
of crimes to be committed in the future.
Counter-complaint. Sometimes a defendant has a claim for money owed
or damages it believes is owed by the plaintiff. In such a case, the defendant
sues the plaintiff for recovery of those claims. The defendant becomes a counter-plaintiff,
and the plaintiff becomes a counter-defendant.
Deposition. A conference where the lawyer asks a party questions under
oath. A court reporter records the answers and prepares a transcript. Hearing
answers before trial allows lawyers to know more about the case. It also allows
the lawyer an opportunity to eliminate asking certain questions, thereby shortening
the trial. Both parties, their lawyers, and the court reporter are generally the
only persons who attend depositions.
Disabled. A person who has a mental or physical impairment which substantially
limits a major life activity, such as walking, seeing, hearing, or other major
life activities. Disabilities also include mental impairments.
Discovery. At any time during the case, preferably at the beginning,
a party may file pleadings asking for discovery to learn about certain facts.
Interrogatories, Request for Production of Documents, Request for Admissions,
and Depositions are all forms of discovery. Almost always, there should be discovery
before trial. In most cases, it is best to review discovery before a settlement
offer is proposed. Generally, a party must respond to filed discovery within thirty
Discrimination. Choice for action based upon a subjective or arbitrary
criteria. Some discrimination is actionable: race, age, gender, etc. Some is not:
competency, education level, prior work history, etc.
Employment at will doctrine. At common law, all employment was at will--in
other words, an employer could fire an employee for any reason. Laws which limit
an employers ability to discipline or fire employees provide exceptions
to this doctrine.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal agency which
investigates and in some cases prosecutes Title VII claims (sex, race, religion,
and national origin), Americans with Disabilities Act claims, and Age Discrimination
Family Medical Leave Act. An act of Congress to provide up to 12 weeks
of unpaid leave for workers to recover from certain illnesses and provide care
for certain types of family members.
Front-pay award. Prospective award of projected future earnings, usually
adjusted for present value. The idea behind front pay awards is to cure future
damages without disturbing current employees of the defendant employer.
Injunction. At any time during a case, a party may ask for an order,
usually temporary, preserving assets or protecting the party or the partys
property from physical harm.
Interrogatories. A set of written questions that must be answered in
writing under oath.
Mediation. Mediation may be ordered by the court upon motion by either
party or upon the courts own decision. Mediation is an alternative to trial.
It is a voluntary process whereby the parties meet with a mediator and try to
settle all or part of a case.
Motion. A motion is a general term that describes a document that is
filed and a procedure whereby the judge can rule on important questions during
the case. For example, if discovery is overdue, a party will file a Motion to
Compel Discovery. Generally, no witnesses will be heard. On most occasions, clients
will not attend motion hearings.
Motion for Summary Judgment. Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
and most applicable state rules, provides for entry of a judgment of the court
in favor of the party making the motion if all of the undisputed facts support
all of the necessary elements of its claim or defense. For a Motion for Summary
Judgment to be successful, the court must conclude that no reasonable jury could
construe the facts in favor of the non-moving party. Usually a defense tactic.
If the defendants motion for summary judgment fails, the case typically
proceeds to trial shortly thereafter.
Progressive Discipline. An employers policy to impose discipline
based on a predetermined formula which progresses from lesser discipline, such
as a warning or counseling, to more severe discipline, such as suspension or termination.
The discipline is accompanied by written documentation. The idea behind progressive
discipline is to provide an opportunity for the employee to correct performance
issues over time, while giving the employer an increasing leverage. Most if not
all progressive disciplinary policies provide for immediate termination for certain
Race Discrimination. Choice for hiring, termination, or adverse employment
action based solely on the workers race.
Reductions in Force. An employers program to cut the number of
positions employed at a specific work location or company wide.
Request for Production of Documents. A list of documents that must be
organized and produced to the party filing the Request.
Retaliation. Action or conduct intended to punish or deter workers from
seeking or invoking protection under state or federal employment laws.
Right to Sue Letter. A document issued by the EEOC declining to pursue
an employment claim for an employee. The employee then has 90 days following receipt
of the letter to file a Complaint in Federal District Court; otherwise the claim
is extinguished forever and may never be pursued again.
Right to work doctrine. State law which prohibits unions or employers
from requiring union membership as a condition to employment. An employee who
chooses not to join a properly qualified union is not required to do so, but may
be bound by the unions collective bargaining agreements with the employer.
The non-union employee may also be entitled to some union benefits, depending
upon the wording of the collective bargaining agreement.
Service. Before a case is started, the defendant must be served with
the papers which give the defendant notice that a lawsuit has been filed. The
Sheriff or a private process server will perform this function. A party or lawyer
cannot serve lawsuits.
Severance Package. An agreement between an employer and an employee
which contains the terms under which the employees employment will be terminated.
Usually contains a release of all known and unknown claims by the employee against
the employer in exchange for a sum of money.
Sexual Harassment. Offensive conduct which is directed at a worker due
to the workers gender. Such conduct is actionable if it affects the workers
Termination. The ending of the employer/employee relationship. Terminations
may be voluntary, initiated by the employee to pursue another opportunity. Terminations
may also be involuntary, initiated by the employer for economic, disciplinary,
or other reasons.
Whistle Blowing. Act of worker to report criminal acts of employer to
proper authorities. In most states does not include notifying the media alone.