To survive the early stages of litigation in federal court, you need to ensure your complaint not only alleges facts that, if proven true, would support a legal cause of action, but that present a plausible claim for relief. While you are far more likely to win your case at trial if you are represented by an attorney, one of the few situations in which your task may be easier without a lawyer is surviving an initial motion to dismiss. This is because the United States Supreme Court has held expressly that a “pro se” plaintiff (i.e., a litigant not represented by a lawyer) must be held to less stringent standards than those who have legal representation and are more familiar with the rules of formal pleadings.
Michael Bogan is representing himself in a Title VII employment-discrimination action against The Roomstore in Richmond, Virginia. Judge Henry E. Hudson recently denied The Roomstore’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, finding that Mr. Bogan alleged “scant but marginally sufficient” factual allegations to support a claim for discriminatory discipline, an employment practice prohibited by federal employment laws. Had an attorney drafted the complaint, the result might have been different.
Mr. Bogan, an African-American, alleges that his Caucasian supervisor at The Roomstore demanded that he undergo a drug test even though a similarly situated white employee was not required to submit to the test. He claimed the white employee was involved in illegal activity and had missed several days of work. The complaint alleges that The Roomstore terminated his employment for refusing to submit to the test.