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Workers' right to sue

Workers have the right to sue their employers for violations of wage and hour laws and prevailing wage laws. This is called the worker's "private right of action."

There are two ways you might receive a private right of action. You can request one from the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division, or you may receive one from our office in response to your complaint. With a private right of action, you may sue your employer on your own or as a group with other workers, if they have similar complaints.

If you win your case in court, you have a right to receive:

  • triple damages,
  • attorney fees, and
  • court costs.

You can sue for violations that include:

Important information about when to file

There are strict deadlines for starting a lawsuit, called “statutes of limitations.“ They control how much time you have to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations for most wage and hour violations is 3 years after the violation. If you miss that deadline, you will not be able to sue.

For most violations, you must first file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office (AGO) before filing your lawsuit in court. The time you spend waiting for the AGO to respond to the complaint does not count toward the 3-year deadline for suing after a violation.

You may want to check with a lawyer to confirm the deadline for your case.

Before you sue: File a complaint with the AGO

If you want to sue your employer in court, you should fill out the appropriate complaint form and mark on form that you are requesting a "private right of action."

If you request a private right of action, you should hear from the AGO's Fair Labor Division in 3 to 4 weeks. However, you automatically have the right to sue 90 days after filing a complaint.

Where to file your lawsuit

Depending on the amount of money involved in your case (damages you seek or wages owed to you), you may file in Small Claims Court, District Court, or Superior Court.

  • Small Claims Court: This is a simple, informal, and inexpensive option for resolving your case if you are owed $7,000 or less. For more information, call (617) 788-8810 or visit the Small Claims Court website.
  • District Court: You should file your lawsuit here if you are owed $25,000 or less. For more information, call (617) 788-8810 or visit the District Court website.
  • Superior Court: You should file your lawsuit here if you are owed more than $25,000. For more information, call (617) 788-8130 or visit the Superior Court website.

How to find a lawyer

Going to court is complicated. You may want a lawyer to help with all or parts of your case. You can attend the Attorney General’s Wage Theft Clinic to talk to a lawyer for free. You can also find a lawyer through a local legal services agency or a bar association.

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