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Summary Judgment Motions

What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

Summary Judgment MotionsIn many employment law lawsuits, the employer eventually files what is called a motion for summary judgment in which it asks the court to dismiss your case. These motions are decided by a judge, whose job is to determine whether you have enough evidence that you could prove your legal claims.

Fortunately, when deciding whether to dismiss your case on a motion for summary judgment a judge is required to accept all of your facts as true as long as you have evidence to support them. That is true even if your employer has witnesses and evidence that appears to contradict those facts.

The judge merely is supposed to decide whether you have enough evidence that you could prove your claims at a trial. It is not until your trial that a judge or jury is supposed to weigh your evidence against your employer’s evidence to decide who it believes.

Normally, summary judgment motions are not filed until after discovery has been completed. That way, you have time to try to first gather the evidence you need to support your claims.

Although it hopefully will not happen, if an employer’s motion for summary judgment is granted in its entirety that would mean your case would be over, and you can try to appeal. If the motion is granted in part, that would mean one or more of your claims (or portions of them) have been dismissed, but you can continue with the rest of your case. For instance, a judge could dismiss certain claims or individual defendants from your case, or dismiss your request for certain damages or relief, while leaving the rest of your case intact. If the employer's motion is denied that would mean your entire case has survived and you can proceed to trial.

Some of the most common reasons why employers win motions for summary judgment include:

  • You do not have any evidence to support one or more critical facts;
  • One or more of your claims were filed after the applicable statute of limitations;
  • You are unable to establish a legal requirement for one or more of your claims; or
  • There is a statute or legal opinion that bars your claim.

Many of these problems can be avoided by an experienced employment lawyer who can evaluate whether your case is likely to survive a motion for summary judgment before you even file a lawsuit, and through the proper use of discovery to obtain enough evidence to support your claims. Of course, that is not always possible for many reasons including the fact that witnesses can lie, evidence can be lost or missing and the law can change in unexpected ways. In addition, the more aggressive you are – asserting questionable claims or making arguments to push the boundaries of the law – the more likely it is that one or more of your claims will be dismissed.

It also is possible the judge will misinterpret the law and improperly grant a summary judgment motion. If that happens, you can file an appeal.

Summary Judgment Proof Patterns

When deciding a motion for summary judgment in a discrimination or retaliation case, judges typically follow the determinative factor proof pattern. However, if you have “smoking gun” evidence or another form of “direct evidence,” the judge might follow the mixed motive proof pattern.

Summary Judgment Motions Filed by Employees

Since employees have the burden to prove discrimination or retaliation in most employment law cases, it is much more common for employers to file motions for summary judgment than employees. However, employees also have the right to file their own motions for summary judgment.

It is rare for an employee to win a discrimination or retaliation case on a summary judgment motion because there usually is a dispute about the reasons for the employer's actions. However, there are occasions when an employee could win a claim on a motion for summary judgment with respect to claims based on an employment contract, a wage and hour dispute, the Family & Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), or another law that does not necessarily require you to prove the employer’s intent.

Contact Rabner Baumgart Ben-Asher & Nirenberg, P.C.

If your company has violated your rights as an employee, we can help. Please contact us today at (973) 744-4000.