Small Claims Court: A Beginner’s Guide To Resolving Disputes

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Last Updated: July 2024

Are you facing a dispute with someone that needs to be resolved? Small Claims Court may be the answer you’re looking for.

Small Claims Court is a legal process that allows individuals to resolve disputes with others in a relatively quick and inexpensive way. This court handles cases involving smaller amounts of money, typically under $10,000, and is designed to be user-friendly and accessible to the general public.

If you’re new to Small Claims Court, the process may seem overwhelming at first. However, with a little bit of understanding and preparation, you can navigate the process with ease.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps of filing a claim, serving the defendant, preparing for court, attending the hearing, and receiving a judgment. We’ll also discuss alternative dispute resolution methods that may be available to you.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how Small Claims Court works and what to expect if you choose to pursue this option.

Key Takeaways

  • Small Claims Court is a legal process for resolving disputes quickly and inexpensively, typically involving smaller amounts of money.
  • Alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, arbitration, and settlements, can be less intimidating and less formal than going to court.
  • Individuals can represent themselves in Small Claims Court instead of hiring a lawyer.
  • Settlement agreements should be fair and reasonable for both parties, and all terms should be clearly spelled out in writing to avoid future disputes.

Understanding Small Claims Court

If you have a dispute that involves a small amount of money, understanding small claims court can be a quick and effective way to resolve the issue. Small claims court is a type of court that handles cases involving small amounts of money, typically up to a few thousand dollars.

The process is often less formal than regular court, and you can represent yourself instead of hiring a lawyer. To begin the process, you’ll need to file a complaint with the small claims court in your area. This complaint should explain the dispute and the amount of money you’re seeking.

Once the court receives your complaint, they’ll notify the defendant and set a date for a hearing. At the hearing, you and the defendant will have the opportunity to present your cases, and the judge will make a decision based on the evidence presented.

If you win, the court will issue a judgment, and the defendant will be required to pay the amount owed.

Filing a Claim

Once you’re ready to take action, it’s important to know the steps for submitting your claim and getting the resolution you deserve. Here’s a step-by-step guide on filing a claim in small claims court:

  • Determine whether or not your case qualifies for small claims court. Typically, small claims court is reserved for cases involving disputes over money owed, damages, or breach of contract.

  • Fill out the necessary forms to file your claim. These forms will vary depending on your state, but typically include a complaint form and a summons form.

  • Serve the defendant with the necessary paperwork. You can do this either through certified mail or by hiring a process server. Once the defendant receives the paperwork, they will have a certain amount of time to respond or file a counterclaim.

Filing a claim in small claims court can be a daunting task, but by following these steps, you’ll be on your way to resolving your dispute and getting the justice you deserve.

Remember to gather all necessary evidence and documentation to support your case, and be prepared to present your argument in a clear and concise manner.

Serving the Defendant

Now that you’re taking action, it’s crucial to serve the defendant with the necessary paperwork to hold them accountable and ensure justice is served.

Serving the defendant means delivering the claim form and other documents that you filed with the small claims court to the person who you’re suing. You can’t just hand them the papers yourself; you need to use a third-party to do it.

You have several options for serving the defendant. You can use a process server, a sheriff, or a friend or family member who’s over 18 and not involved in the case. Whoever you choose must fill out a proof of service form to show that the defendant was properly served.

Make sure to keep a copy of this form for your records.

Preparing for Court

Preparing for court involves gathering evidence, practicing your presentation, and familiarizing yourself with courtroom procedures to ensure a successful outcome. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Collect all the necessary documents, including contracts, receipts, and correspondence related to your dispute. Make sure you have multiple copies of each document, so you can provide one to the judge, the defendant, and keep one for yourself.

  • Write down a clear and concise statement of your case. Practice presenting your case in front of friends or family members to build your confidence and refine your arguments.

  • Dress appropriately for court. Wear business attire and avoid anything too flashy or casual. You want to present yourself as a professional and credible individual.

  • Arrive early on the day of your hearing. This will give you plenty of time to find the courtroom, check in with the court clerk, and get settled before the proceedings begin.

By following these steps, you can increase your chances of success in small claims court. Remember, preparation is key, and the more prepared you are, the more likely you’re to win your case.

Attending the Hearing

To make a good impression in front of the judge, you should arrive early and dressed appropriately for the hearing. Being punctual shows respect for the court and demonstrates that you are taking the matter seriously. Dressing appropriately means wearing clean and conservative clothing. Avoid wearing anything too casual, such as shorts or jeans, and anything too revealing or flashy, such as a short skirt or a bright-colored suit. Remember that you want to be taken seriously, so your appearance should reflect that.

During the hearing, it is important to remain calm and composed. Speak clearly and confidently when addressing the judge and avoid interrupting others when they are speaking. It is also a good idea to bring along any relevant documents or evidence that support your case, such as receipts, contracts, or photographs. Keep in mind that the judge will make a decision based on the evidence presented, so it is important to have all necessary information with you. By following these tips, you can increase your chances of a successful outcome in small claims court.

Dos Don’ts
Arrive early Don’t arrive late
Dress appropriately Don’t wear anything too casual or flashy
Speak clearly and confidently Don’t interrupt others when they are speaking
Bring relevant documents/evidence Don’t forget important information Show respect to all parties involved Don’t be dismissive or rude

Receiving a Judgment

After the hearing, the judge will issue a judgment that’ll determine the outcome of your case, and it’s important to understand what happens next.

If the judge rules in your favor, then the defendant will be ordered to pay the amount of damages you sought in your complaint.

However, if the judge rules in favor of the defendant, then you won’t receive any compensation.

Once the judge issues the judgment, you’ll receive a copy of it in the mail.

This judgment is a legally binding document and it’s important to keep it in a safe place.

If the defendant doesn’t comply with the judgment and doesn’t pay you the amount owed, then you may need to take additional legal action to enforce the judgment, such as garnishing wages or putting a lien on property.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Now, let’s talk about alternative dispute resolution. This is a process that can help you avoid going to court to settle your dispute.

There are three main methods: mediation, arbitration, and settlements.

Mediation

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about the prospect of going to court, mediation can be a helpful alternative to consider. Mediation involves a neutral third party, called a mediator, who helps facilitate a discussion between the parties in an attempt to come to a mutually agreeable solution. It can be a less intimidating and less formal process than going to court, and can often result in a quicker resolution.

To give you a better idea of how mediation works, here’s a table outlining the key differences between mediation and going to court:

Mediation Going to Court
Voluntary and consensual Required by law
Confidential Public record
Informal Formal
Parties control outcome Judge or jury decides outcome

As you can see, mediation can offer a more personalized and private approach to resolving disputes. It’s important to note that not all disputes are suitable for mediation, but it’s worth considering as an option before pursuing legal action.

Arbitration

Now that you’ve learned about mediation, let’s move on to another alternative dispute resolution process: arbitration.

In arbitration, a neutral third party is chosen to make a decision about the case, after hearing both sides of the argument.

Arbitration can be binding or non-binding. If it’s binding, you and the other party must accept the decision made by the arbitrator, and it’s legally enforceable. On the other hand, if it’s non-binding, you’re not required to accept the decision, but it can be used as a guide to settle the dispute.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of arbitration:

  • Advantages:

  • Faster and less formal than a trial

  • Generally less expensive than a trial

  • Disadvantages:

  • Limited discovery process

  • Limited right to appeal the arbitrator’s decision

Settlements

Let’s dive into the topic of settlements, a crucial aspect of resolving legal disputes outside of court. Settlements involve a resolution that is agreed upon by both parties involved in the dispute.

This can include a payment of money, specific actions that need to be taken, or simply an agreement to drop the case altogether.

One of the main benefits of settling a dispute is that it avoids the time and expense of going to court. It also allows both parties to have some control over the outcome, rather than leaving it entirely up to a judge or arbitrator.

However, it’s important to make sure that the settlement is fair and reasonable for both parties, and that all terms are clearly spelled out in writing to avoid any confusion or future disputes.

If you’re able to come to a settlement agreement, it can be submitted to the court for approval and become legally binding.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated the small claims court process and resolved your dispute. Whether you were the plaintiff or defendant, you can now move forward with peace of mind knowing that the matter has been settled in a fair and legally binding way.

Remember, small claims court is designed to be accessible and efficient, but it still requires preparation and attention to detail. By following the steps outlined in this beginner’s guide, you can increase your chances of a successful outcome and avoid common pitfalls.

Whether it’s a dispute with a neighbor, a landlord-tenant issue, or a disagreement with a business, small claims court can be a great option for resolving conflicts without the need for expensive lawyers or lengthy court battles.

Good luck!

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John G. Pratt

Can I Sue My Former Employer for Giving Bad Reference

Have you ever wondered if you could sue your former employer for giving you a bad reference? It’s a frustrating situation, and you deserve to know your rights. In this article, we will explore the legal considerations surrounding bad references, including defamation laws and

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Can I Sue My Employer for Carpal Tunnel

Do you find yourself waking up each morning with numbness and tingling in your hands? Are you struggling to perform simple tasks due to wrist pain? It’s time to take action. In this article, we will explore the possibility of suing your employer for

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Can I Sue My Employer for Messing up My Taxes

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your employer made mistakes with your taxes? It can be frustrating and stressful, as it directly impacts your finances. But here’s the good news: you might have legal options. In this article, we’ll explore whether

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Can I Sue My Employer for Loston Call

If you’re feeling like your employer has left you hanging when it comes to on-call compensation, you might be wondering if you can take legal action. Well, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll dive into the legal considerations surrounding lost on-call

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What Can I Sue My Employer for

Are you wondering what legal recourse you have against your employer? Look no further. In this article, we will explore the various reasons you may have to sue your employer. From harassment and discrimination to wrongful termination, wage and hour violations, and more. Get

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Can I Sue My Employer After Workers Compensation

Are you wondering if you can take legal action against your employer after receiving workers compensation? Well, buckle up, because we’ve got all the answers you need. In this article, we’ll delve into the complexities of workers compensation laws and explore alternative legal options

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Can I Sue My Employer for Wrongful Suspension

Are you facing the unjust consequences of a wrongful suspension? Wondering if you have any legal recourse against your employer? Look no further. This article dives into the intricacies of suing your employer for wrongful suspension, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of the

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Can I Sue My Employer for Audio Recording

Do you ever wonder if you have the right to take legal action against your employer for audio recording? In this article, we will explore the legal considerations surrounding audio surveillance in the workplace. We will delve into your rights as an employee, the

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Can I Sue My Employer for Slander

Did you know that approximately 29% of employees have experienced slander in the workplace? If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you may be wondering if you can sue your employer for slander. This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive guide

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Can I Sue Employer for Unpaid Wages

Are you tired of working hard for your employer, only to be left unpaid for your efforts? It’s time to take matters into your own hands and explore your legal options. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of unpaid wages and

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Can I Sue My Employer for Underpaying Me

Have you ever found yourself wondering if you can take legal action against your employer for underpaying you? Picture this: you work tirelessly day in and day out, only to receive a paycheck that falls far short of what you deserve. It’s frustrating, unfair,

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Can I Sue My Employer for Mold Exposure

Are you suffering from the effects of mold exposure at work? Wondering if you have the right to take legal action against your employer? Look no further. In this article, we delve into the health risks associated with mold exposure in the workplace and

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Can I Sue My Employer for Hostile Work Environment

Are you feeling trapped in a workplace that feels more like a battleground? Wondering if you have any recourse against your employer for creating a hostile work environment? In this article, we will delve into the legal definition of a hostile work environment and

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Can I Sue My Employer for a Work Related Injury

Are you wondering if you can take legal action against your employer for a work-related injury? Well, you’re about to dive into a comprehensive article that will shed light on this subject. We’ll explore the various aspects of employer liability, evaluate the severity of

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Can I Sue Employer for Injury at Work

Have you ever wondered if you can sue your employer for an injury sustained at work? Well, the answer is not always straightforward. Understanding employer liability for workplace injuries involves considering several key factors. In this article, we will explore the concept of employer

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Can I Sue My Employer for Pain and Suffering

So, you’re wondering if you can sue your employer for pain and suffering? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll delve into the ins and outs of workplace injury lawsuits and evaluate employer liability. We’ll also explore the types of

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Can I Sue My Employer if I Am in a Union

Do you wonder if you can sue your employer while being a member of a union? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, according to recent studies, many union members have questions about their legal rights and options. This article aims to provide you with

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An image depicting an employee standing outside an office building, holding a termination letter with a shocked expression
Can I Sue
John G. Pratt

Can I Sue My Employer for Wrongful Termination

Are you wondering if you can take legal action against your employer for wrongful termination? Well, you’re in the right place. This article dives into the intricate world of wrongful termination laws, helping you understand the types of claims, how to prove them, and

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Can I Sue My Employer if I Get Hurt at Work

Have you ever wondered if you can sue your employer if you get hurt at work? The answer to that question depends on various factors such as the circumstances of the accident and the laws in your jurisdiction. For example, let’s say you work

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Can I Sue My Previous Employer

Have you ever wondered if you can sue your previous employer? Well, the answer might surprise you. In this article, we will delve into the ins and outs of employment lawsuits, shedding light on the following topics: Statute of limitations Wrongful termination Discrimination claims

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Can I Sue My Employer for Unfair Treatment

Are you tired of feeling like you’re being treated unfairly at work? Wondering if there’s something you can do about it? Well, the good news is that you have legal grounds to sue your employer for unfair treatment. In this article, we’ll explore the

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Can I Sue My Employer for Bed Bugs in Ny

Have you ever found yourself tossing and turning at night, plagued by the relentless bites of bed bugs? If you’ve experienced the nightmare of bed bug infestations in your workplace in New York, you may be wondering if you can hold your employer accountable.

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Can I Sue My Employer for Getting Covid

Are you wondering if you can sue your employer for contracting COVID-19? The legal landscape surrounding workplace infections is complex, and understanding your rights is crucial. This article delves into the legal considerations and potential employer liability for COVID-19 transmission. By examining the duty

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Can I Sue Employer for Defamation of Character

Are you facing the damaging effects of false statements made by your employer? Discover how you can fight back and protect your reputation. In this article, we will explore the legal definition of defamation of character, the elements required to prove it in the

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Can I Sue an Employer for Rescinded Job Offer

Are you wondering if you can sue your employer for a rescinded job offer? Well, you’re in luck because this article will provide you with all the legal considerations you need to know. Understanding your employer’s rights in rescinding a job offer is crucial,

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Can I Sue My Employer for Unpaid Wages

Have you ever wondered if you can take legal action against your employer for unpaid wages? Well, the answer is yes, you can! In this article, we will explore the relevant labor laws and regulations that protect your rights as an employee. We will

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Can I Sue My Employer for an Accident at Work

Are you wondering if you can take legal action against your employer for an accident that occurred at work? You may be surprised to learn that you have options. In this article, we will explore the topic of employer liability and delve into the

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Can I Sue My Employer for Misclassification

Are you wondering if you can sue your employer for misclassification? Well, you’re in the right place. This article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the basics of employee misclassification, the legal definition of misclassification, and the factors that determine it. We’ll

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An image of a perplexed employee, surrounded by a shattered clock symbolizing abrupt termination
Can I Sue
John G. Pratt

Can I Sue My Employer for Firing Me Without Notice

Did you know that in the United States, approximately 25% of employees are terminated without any prior notice? If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you may be wondering if you have any legal recourse against your employer. The good news is that

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Can I Sue My Employer for Mental Stress

Are you feeling overwhelmed and stressed out at work? Wondering if you have any legal options? Well, you’re in luck! In this article, we’ll explore the possibility of suing your employer for mental stress. By understanding the legal basis, workplace liability, and steps to

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How Can I Sue My Employer for Not Paying Me

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your hard-earned wages were not paid by your employer? It can be frustrating and leave you feeling powerless. But fear not, because in this article, we will guide you through the process of suing your

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Can I Sue Employer for Discrimination

Have you ever felt discriminated against in the workplace? It’s a frustrating and unfair experience, but did you know that you can take legal action against your employer? In this article, we will explore the legal basis for suing an employer for discrimination and

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Can I Sue My Employer for Not Paying Me

Are you being denied the wages you rightfully earned? Did you know that an estimated 70% of employees experience some form of wage theft? If you find yourself in this situation, you might be wondering, ‘Can I sue my employer for not paying me?’

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Can I Sue My Employer for Retaliation

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your employer retaliated against you for speaking up? Well, buckle up, because this article is here to shed some light on your legal rights. Can you sue your employer for retaliation? The answer might not

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Can I Sue My Ex Employer for Emotional Distress

So, you’re wondering if you can sue your ex employer for emotional distress? Well, let’s dive into the legal grounds and understand what you’re up against. In the workplace, emotional distress is no joke, and employers have a duty to care for your well-being.

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Can I Sue My Employer for an Injury on the Job

Are you wondering if you can sue your employer for an injury on the job? Look no further. This article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of workers’ compensation laws, employer liability for workplace injuries, and exceptions to workers’ compensation coverage. We will

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Can I Sue My Employer for Heat Exhaustion

Are you feeling the heat at work? Wondering if you can hold your employer responsible for your heat exhaustion? Look no further. This article dives deep into the legal aspects of heat exhaustion claims, helping you understand your rights as an employee. By examining

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Can I Sue My Ex Employer for Not Paying Me

Are you wondering if you can sue your ex employer for not paying you? Understanding your rights as an employee and exploring the legal options available to you is crucial. By reviewing your employment contract for potential violations and gathering evidence of non-payment, you

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An image of a frustrated employee standing outside an office building, clutching a termination notice, while their employer's logo lingers ominously in the background
Can I Sue
John G. Pratt

Can I Sue My Employer for Firing Me

Have you ever wondered if you can sue your employer for firing you? Well, the answer may not be as straightforward as you think. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of wrongful termination, evaluate employment contracts, and review state and federal

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Can I Sue My Employer for Disclosing Personal Information

Are you curious about your legal options if your employer reveals your personal information without your consent? This article explores the potential for suing your employer for disclosing personal information. By understanding the legal basis for such a lawsuit and the factors considered in

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When Can I Sue My Old Employer

Are you wondering when you can sue your old employer? Look no further. In this article, we will provide you with the essential information you need to understand the statute of limitations for employment lawsuits, the types of wrongful termination claims, and how to

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Can I Sue My Employer for Hearing Loss

Did you know that more than 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels on the job each year? If you have suffered hearing loss due to your employer’s negligence, you may be wondering if you can sue for compensation. In this article,

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Can I Sue My Employer for Layoff

Have you found yourself facing a sudden layoff and wondering if you can take legal action against your employer? Well, you’re not alone. Many individuals in your position have contemplated suing their employers for wrongful termination. In this article, we will delve into the

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Can I Sue My Employer for Not Paying Me Overtime

Are you working long hours without receiving the overtime pay you deserve? It’s time to take action. In this article, we will explore the legal options available to you if your employer is not paying you overtime. From understanding the Fair Labor Standards Act

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An image featuring a silhouette of a distressed employee holding medical records, facing off against a towering corporate building
Can I Sue
John G. Pratt

Can I Sue My Employer for Hipaa Violation

Are you concerned about your employer potentially violating your HIPAA rights? Wondering if you have any recourse? Look no further. This article delves into the realm of HIPAA violations by employers and explores the legal actions you can take if you find yourself in

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An image showcasing a worker wearing a hard hat and safety vest, holding a crumpled medical report while looking stressed, with a blurred background of an industrial setting and a sign displaying "Workplace Injury Claim" in bold red letters
Can I Sue
John G. Pratt

Can I Sue My Employer for Workplace Injury

Are you wondering if you can sue your employer for a workplace injury? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will explore the legal obligations of employers when it comes to workplace injuries. We will also delve into the intricacies

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Can I Sue
John G. Pratt

Unpaid Wages: Can You Sue For Wage Theft?

Have you ever worked long hours and felt like you weren’t being paid fairly? If so, you may have been a victim of wage theft. Wage theft occurs when an employer violates labor laws by not paying employees the full amount they are owed

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