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Filing a Wage Lawsuit in State or Federal Court

Contents

     If your employer owes you money for unpaid wages, overtime, or benefits, you have some options. You can file a complaint with the Michigan Wage and Hour Program or the U.S. Wage and Hour Division, or you can file a lawsuit in state or federal court. This article is about filing a lawsuit in a state or federal court. To learn about filing a state complaint, read Filing a Complaint with the Michigan Wage and Hour Program. To learn about filing a federal complaint, read Filing a Complaint with the U.S. Wage and Hour Division. You can also use our Do-It-Yourself Wage and Hour Forms (coming soon) to find out which option is best for you.

    Important Facts

    Before filing a complaint, there are some important things to think about.

    If you already filed a lawsuit in court, you generally cannot file a wage complaint on the same issue with either the Michigan Wage and Hour Program or the U.S. Wage and Hour Division. If you already filed a complaint with the Michigan Wage and Hour Program or the U.S. Wage and Hour Division, you generally can later file a lawsuit in court on the same issue.

    Employees who are members of labor unions usually have rights in addition to filing wage complaints and lawsuits. Union contracts typically establish wages and benefits. This means if you are a union member you can file grievances through your union representative. Grievance procedures are set by the union’s contract with your employer. Consider speaking with your union and filing a grievance before starting a complaint or lawsuit.

    Independent contractors are generally not protected by state or federal wage laws. But if your employer wrongly classified you as an independent contractor, you may be covered by these laws. Independent contractor status is not determined simply by the label you are assigned when you began working. Various factors are used to determine this status. You may want to talk to a lawyer if you feel your employee classification is wrong. Use Find a Lawyer to find lawyers and legal services in your area.

    If your employer has filed for bankruptcy and you want to file a wage complaint or lawsuit, you will need to contact the bankruptcy court. Bankruptcy is complex. You may want to talk to a lawyer if you are in this situation. You can use Find a Lawyer to find lawyers and legal services in your area.

    There are strict time limits for filing a complaint with local, state, or federal agencies and for filing a lawsuit in court. The time limits may be different between agencies for the same violation. The time limits may also be different for filing a lawsuit instead of a complaint. If a complaint or lawsuit is not filed within the time limits, you may lose your right to bring the complaint or lawsuit.

    Filing a Lawsuit in State or Federal Court

    Depending on your situation, you might be able to sue your employer in state or federal court. If the amount your employer owes you is $5,500.00 or less, you can sue your employer in small claims court. To learn more about the smalls claims process, read An Overview of Small Claims Court.

    If your employer owes you more than $5,500.00, you may be able to sue in a federal court or other state courts. This type of lawsuit is complex. There are no standard forms for you to use. You may want to talk with a lawyer about this. You can use Find a Lawyer to find lawyers and legal services in your area.

    Time Limits and Filing Fees

    Lawsuits for minimum wage and overtime violations under the Michigan Workforce Opportunity Wage Act (WOWA) must be filed in court within three years of the violation. Typically, WOWA claims are filed in state court. However, when there are both WOWA and federal claims in the same lawsuit, you might be able to file in federal court.

    Lawsuits for minimum wage and overtime violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must be filed in court within two years of the violation. If the violation was “willful” (your employer knew that their actions violated the law or the employer recklessly disregarded whether their actions violated the law), you have three years to file. FLSA claims may be filed in state or federal court.

    Filing fees and other costs vary depending on the type of case.

    Serving Your Employer and Going to Court

    After you file, your employer must be served with a copy of the complaint. Your employer will then file an answer and could possibly ask that the case be transferred to a different court. The judge assigned to the case could order mediation before setting a date for trial.

    At mediation, a neutral person will meet with you and your employer. They will try to help resolve the case. If an agreement is reached, it will be put in writing and you and your employer will sign it. To learn more about mediation, read Mediation and Other Forms of Settlement. If the case is not resolved at mediation or mediation was not ordered, the judge will set a date for trial. Visit the Going to Court: Extra Tips and Forms Toolkit to learn more about the court process.

    At the end of the trial, the judge will issue an order. If either you or your employer does not agree with the order, you may be able to appeal it.