Generally, only indigent defendants are entitled to a free lawyer to defend against serious criminal charges that may result in jail time. There’s no automatic right to an attorney in civil cases, especially not employment lawsuits that the employee files.
The practical result is that employers really don’t have to worry too much about wholly frivolous claims, since few attorneys will take such cases on a contingent fee basis.
Recently, however, there has been a growing trend among judges to appoint free attorneys in employment cases. Usually that happens when the judge believes a lawsuit may have merit and the employee needs help to make that case. As a practical matter, this means employers may soon see more cases actually being litigated.
Recent case: Crystal, who is black, worked the night shift as a custodian for a Texas school district.
After she filed an EEOC race discrimination complaint, she claimed the district began harassing her. Crystal said, for example, that a transfer to another school left her no choice but to walk 16 miles to work.
She filed suit, alleging among other things, retaliation for complaining about race discrimination.
However, she couldn’t convince an attorney to take her case.
The court reviewed the file, apparently finding some potential merit in Crystal’s retaliation claim. It granted her request to have an attorney appointed to take her case.
The court also said it would reimburse that attorney for costs incurred in pursuing Crystal’s case, ensuring that money will be there for discovery and depositions, plus expert testimony if necessary. (Webb v. Round Rock Independent School District, No. A-12-919, WD TX, 2015)
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