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Ask HN: Have you ever been sued by your startup?
191 points by throwaway10283 on Mar 25, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments
So, I'm being sued by a startup that I used to work for. I don't want to go in to the details for obvious reasons, but it's been really stressful and difficult.

I was recruited to work as the first employee for this startup, spent a good deal of time and effort on it, and then had the founder turn around and sue me. They're demanding more money from me than I was ever paid to begin with, because of some vague damages that I (allegedly intentionally) caused.

All of his claims are patently false (and I have documentation to that point), and boils down to the founder trying to scapegoat me for his own mistakes. However, he's independently wealthy and knows that I don't have much money and likely won't be able to defend myself. So, in essence, it feels like an adult form of bullying.

I have no idea what to do. I can't afford an attorney. I'm also concerned that there's this public mark on my record (e.g., a future employer googles me and finds this lawsuit).

So, what do I do? Have any of you been in a similar place with an early-stage startup? How do it go? Why do people suck so much?

EDIT: I was apparently responding to too many questions, and am rate limited, so I can't respond anymore.

I am a student and I have called my student legal services. This case is too big for them to handle. In the words of one of the people I spoke with, "you would have been better off getting a DWI."

It is a lawsuit in federal court, not just a threatening letter. I have considered going pro se, but I'm too concerned about following proper procedure.

I was W2 not 1099. I've reviewed my employment agreements, and that's part of what makes this whole thing baseless. Without going into details, their allegations suggest that my employment agreements require me to do things that they don't actually specify. It's akin to firing a airline pilot because they didn't serve enough soda to the passengers.

Thanks specifically to the users that recommended Grellas. I'm speaking with him later today :)

You can't afford _not_ to have an attorney. Most give free 30-minute consultations, start there.

Get the best attorney you can. Good lawyers cost much less than mediocre lawyers, even if they have a higher hourly rate. Good lawyers have plenty of clients and have more flexibility with how much they actually bill you.

A letter or two from your lawyer may resolve the whole mess. Anything you write could easily make things worse. The legal system is a dangerous jungle you've never seen before. You need expert help to navigate it.

EDIT: to find a lawyer, ask smart businesspeople for a referral

Obviously I can't not defend myself, but it's difficult when I'm already living off a student's budget. Do you have any recommendations or ideas for good and reasonable-priced attorneys?

You really need a good lawyer. No other options there. I'm not sure if he's still active here but you could contact George Grellas (who is both nice, exceptionally knowledgeable and approachable) and ask him what to do, he was quite active here on HN for a while, 2 minutes of googling will locate him. 5 minutes of his time will be worth more than all the (well intentioned) advice you're going to get here.

Without details nobody will be able to give you advice beyond 'get a lawyer' and I fully understand why you don't want to give out any more info here.

The one bit of info I can give you, once you have a lawyer, give him all the information that you can find on this, don't leave anything that you feel is not relevant, a late surprise in a thing like this can be costly.

Best of luck!

Let's be realistic. Beyond the initial consultation a good lawyer is incompatible with a student's budget. Sometimes life is grossly unfair and there's not much you can do about it. Throwaway may well end up owing the plaintiff. At least there's the option of bankruptcy to wipe out the debt.

Thanks for the name! I'll look him up. And, obviously I didn't expect people to provide specific legal advice, but just in general how to handle these situations, and if anybody has actually been through it before.

Handling the situation is the easy part. Locate lawyer, give them all the relevant info, watch two lawyers exchange a bunch of letters and then hopefully it either goes away once the other party is convinced the case is baseless, or it will go to trial. Stop communicating directly with the plaintiff or their lawyers until you have a lawyer.

The best defence is to make sure they realize that you can't pluck feathers from a frog.

Any weaknesses you have should be offset by your contractual terms (assuming there was a contract).

Since you say you were employed they would have to work very hard to prove malice on your part, especially since they decided to keep you on as long as they did. Any damage they claim you caused should be easy to prove for them, hard to defend against by you if it is to stick, but without more specifics that's unknown.

For the record I have been the plaintiff in a case like this, where an employee decided to blackmail me and turn off a website overnight locking me out of the server. Needless to say that didn't end very well for said employee, not because I'm rich and he was weak but because he was a jerk that did something he never should have done: assume that blackmail is a viable option.

In the end that one was resolved out-of-court by the time the defendants lawyer had a chance to talk some sense into the defendant.

> "Needless to say that didn't end very well for said employee"

Did you mean employer?

>"For the record I have been the plaintiff in a case like this, where an employee decided to blackmail me ..."

I bet he meant employee.

Ah, my mistake, I misread the sentences; thanks.

> when I'm already living off a student's budget.

So you don't have assets? And they're suing you for sport?

If so, he's made a big mistake. You'll just declare bankruptcy if you lose, but some lawyer might well take your case for the sport of countersuing and a percentage of the take.

Put another way: Your exposure is small and their's is large (since you've said they have big assets.) Somebody is going to want to chase this ambulance.

Yep. I think it's a combination of him showing his potential investors that they really handed it to this asshole kid who screwed up their company (obviously, the CEO wasn't at fault at all), and an attempt to just screw with me as much as possible.

I already have contacted a bankruptcy attorney, and apparently you can file before there's a judgment against you. So, thanks! That's definitely reaffirming and on my radar :)

Talk to a lawyer before pursuing this, but it may make you smile a bit in the midst of your worry so I'll post it here.

You mentioned that you are living off of a student's budget. Does that mean you are a student? If so, did he hire you on a contractual basis? Meaning, without benefits, etc.? If so, you may have a play that will not only get you some $ but make him look absolutely incompetent in front of his investors. It's actually pretty easy to show (in some states anyway) that you should have been compensated as a full-time employee. MA, for instance, is very harsh on owners who hire 'contractors' who do the work that would normally be done by employees. Even if you have a written agreement to the contrary, the court could decide that you were in fact an employee and award you triple damages.

My friend just lost a case like this. It absolutely stunned me (and her, for that matter). She fired an incompetent contractor, and the contractor turned around and sued. And won.

It sent chills up my spine, but if it fits your case then it could work for you as a threat to embarrass him if not even for the money.

But, ffs, talk to a good lawyer!

> MA, for instance, is very harsh on owners who hire 'contractors' who do the work that would normally be done by employees. Even if you have a written agreement to the contrary, the court could decide that you were in fact an employee and award you triple damages.

This is actually a good thing. See, there are cases like "independent" delivery drivers who work exclusively and full-time for one company and as contractors are denied benefits.

If these people are on sufficiently low income they can apply for Medicaid in case of illness, in which case the cost is borne by the taxpayer. I feel the cost should go to the company owner. You cannot make the argument that society should pay for the fact that such company offers lower prices on their product or that the owner should have a higher income.

I agree that abuse is rampant and bad, and that without laws many business owners will be abusive. I just think that MA argues a little too strongly for the contractor. And it is definitely something he or she will worry about, which was my point to OP.

In the case I mentioned, being a contractor was never an issue or a problem for the person. But when she was let go, she got pissed off and used her leverage for revenge.

My point was that people shouldn't be shocked, shocked when they get busted for breaking the law.

Of course the fellow wouldn't complain while he was employed. People who live in illegal apartments tend not to complain either, until something goes seriously wrong.

My point is that they aren't breaking the law- until a jury decides they are. They've entered into a consensual agreement for fee-for-work as contractor. Both agree. Both understand. Contractor has certain freedoms (work mostly from home on own schedule, etc.) and certain obligations (pay own taxes, etc).

But a jury decides that the agreement isn't right and that someone was actually an employee. And awards triple damages.

Yes, this can be abused by employers. But even when it's not- it can still give employers heartburn. Anyway, in OP's case it's moot because he was W-9.

  > They've entered into a consensual agreement for 
  > fee-for-work as contractor.
It simply doesn't work like that. A worker isn't a contractor just because the employer and the worker have "agreed"... Both parties must be able to demonstrate that the worker is indeed operating like a contractor. See the IRS rules on this, for example: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Em...

I know. I fully understand this. But certain jurisdictions rule differently. And in MA, it is a serious threat. In OP's case, again, it is irrelevant because he was a w-2 employee.

Do yourself a favor -- don't go down the bankruptcy path too soon. Speak to a good lawyer first and try to get things resolved. Bankruptcy has long-lasting consequences, stays with you in some form for the rest of your life and should really be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

Since you're a student (didn't know your age when I wrote my other comment), it's even more likely that they have no intention of actually following through with the lawsuit, so rest (slightly) easier knowing this will likely cost them more $$ than it will cost you.

If you're a student and your parent's/parents' dependent and she/he/they have a pre-paid legal plan, you may be able to at least get one of lawyers in the plan to write a letter responding to the lawsuit. As others have suggested, that may be enough to stop things or at least buy some time.

As others mention, your school may have a free legal clinic, especially if it has an associated law school. If not, other schools in the area, or a city/municipality, may have a similar clinic. Many top firms have their lawyers do some 'pro bono' work; the key is to find the intermediaries (like law clinics) who can match you up.

But also, when shopping for a lawyer you essentially get 15-60 minutes free with them as a pre-engagement discussion. You can learn a lot just by shopping around! And especially, you'll realize that lawyers vary a lot in their assessment of the issues and your options. (The 10th person you talk to may introduce yet another crucial point for a quick and low-cost resolution... so don't go with the 1st smooth talker!) You should prepare a written summary of the events from your perspective, to quickly get a potential advisor up to speed, and improve this summary over time when early conversations reveal important wrinkles.

Have you looked into whether or not your school provides free legal services?

My university's student government paid for two pretty awesome lawyers (through a student tax) which could be used for pretty much any legal matter (from starting up a business to criminal charges) for free. At the very least they can probably refer you to someone who can help you.

If you are a still an active student, check if your University has free legal counsel (usually provided by law students)

Are you a student? If so, most universities have free (included in your tuition/fees) student legal services, with lawyers you can meet with for free.

> living off a student's budget.

assuming that's not just an analogy, most universities provide free (or almost free) legal consultation on campus.

Lots of lawyers work on credit. They'll understand that you may be unable to pay right away.

How do you go about finding a good lawyer?

Read. The. Whole. Thing.


How To Cold-Call A Lawyer: A Potential Client's Guide May 27, 2011 By Ken. Law Practice Let me start by saying this: you shouldn't be cold-calling a lawyer in the first place.

By that I mean you shouldn't be calling a lawyer because you found him in the Yellow Pages, or because her web site was on the first page of Google results, or because the firm has a bitchin' Twitter feed.

If you need a lawyer, you should be calling one based on the recommendation of someone you trust. ...

"recommendation of someone you trust"

As an example of this one of my current lawyers came by way of a recommendation of a law school professor who blogged in the area of interest that I needed to secure an attorney in. I simply contacted him blind and he gave me 3 attorneys that he had dealt with and thought highly of. That was over 10 years ago and I still occasionally use that attorney to this day.

Start with the Chambers recommendations:


It is absolutely an adult form of bullying. Filing a lawsuit, though many will trivialize it, is anything but trivial. It requires time, energy, and most importantly, $$ to be spent on a lawyer. I'm still amazed that so many people go through with it for petty matters or fights.

I've had customers rent a car from my company, damage it, and then sue us to try and recover the damages after we bill them for it. They spend double the cost of the damages to have their lawyer file the lawsuit, and every one has lost the lawsuit so far. So why do they even bother? Because it gives people in a less-powerful position some semblance of control/power (which, by no coincidence, is where bullying often comes from.) - "This car was damaged under my watch, they used my deposit to bill me, I signed a contract agreeing to this scenario, but I'm not happy about any of this and I'm used to getting my way, so I'm going to sue."

Anyway - that's not advice, just background. My advice - if the situation is indeed as you present, is that as painful as it is, you need to defend yourself. If you don't, you risk the court entering what's called a 'default judgment', which is basically a loss on your part.

I'm not sure what the amount is (you said it's more than you were paid, but I don't know what order of magnitude that is) - if it's small-claims-scale, you do not need a lawyer and you can defend yourself in person in court. If it's above the small-claims threshold, you'll need to take it a step further.

In either case, I suggest you at least speak to a lawyer first. It will cost something, but it won't cost thousands to have a conversation, and it may not even cost that much to respond.

One thing that's important to remember: It gets VERY VERY VERY expensive to take a lawsuit beyond the initial filing and angry-letter-exchanging phase. Nobody wants to go there - not the plaintiff, and not the defendant. Filing a response costs time and money, but after that, a world of pain gets opened up with discovery, etc. etc. And that's on both sides -- to the tune of tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So honestly, very few people actually want to go that far unless there is a lot of money at stake.

So likely, you'll want to at least make contact with the plaintiff and figure out what they really want (it might be nothing more than making you pay for a lawyer to respond), but either way - get a lawyer and at least have a conversation.

(None of this should be construed to be legal advice...)

If it's in federal court on what seems like a breach of contract claim, then it's probably there on diversity jurisdiction and thus the amount of claimed damages is over $75,000. So probably not something he can take to small claims, unfortunately.

The real question is, who sues a student for > $75,000 for breaching an employment agreement?

"The real question is, who sues a student for > $75,000 for breaching an employment agreement?"

I suspect that there is more going on here than meets the eye or has been disclosed exactly for that reason. [1] Notwithstanding the parent's comment about the games people play it's really hard to make a judgement (as with anything) w/o hearing the info from both sides.

Now had the OP not been using a throwaway account you could at least infer some legitimacy (however slim) because the poster would be known at least a bit. (Or maybe more than slim if the commenter was well known to the HN community). That is not the case here. This is not to say that the employer doesn't suck and that the case is frivolous but merely to point out a possible reality.

[1] I've been doing business for a long long time and have come in contact with many nutty people obviously but in general the limiting factor as has been pointed out is the amount of effort and money it takes to file and carry through with a law suit is not trivial. Would also add at this point is that it is typical to receive the "scary lawyer letter" prior to the filing of a lawsuit and the OP doesn't mention receiving that.

"Now had the OP not been using a throwaway account you could at least infer some legitimacy (however slim) because the poster would be known at least a bit. "

Absolute idiocy. Especially with ongoing litigation, it's a really bad idea to associate your name with the situation

The reason for the poster not using their name doesn't matter relative to my comment which has to do with the fact that if you knew them or something about them you might give more weight to what they have said in the absence of all the information being considered.

Obviously there is a reason they aren't using their identity.

Would you feel the same if you heard a story from a friend you knew and trusted vs. overheard a story being told from a complete stranger? That's the point I am making. That you are more likely to believe something from someone you know something about rather than a complete stranger. Has nothing to do with why they have decided to not reveal their identity. What about my comment indicates to you that I think they should have revealed who they are exactly?

If I revealed my identity and I was actually a well known person you might give more credence (and respect) instead of reacting with "idiocy" to what I've said. And that would make sense. Just like people will react to what PG says with more respect then a random HN poster and cut more slack.

Thanks for saying "absolute idiocy" and assuming that I don't know something as simple and obvious as "it's a really bad idea to associate your name with the situation".

"but after that, a world of pain gets opened up with discovery"

That's actually an excellent avenue to cause problems for the plaintiff (and get them to drop the suit) since they open themselves up to discovery which many will not want to do simply because of the time or because it will open up a can of worms.

>> Have you ever been sued by your startup?

Yes I have been in exactly the same situation.

Went all the way, they filed every possible paper they could file, but they did not succeed. Based on your description, I don't think that in your case it was actually filed yet (correct me if I'm wrong). In some cases they will just try to scary you, but if you don't break - they won't file. If they do - well, find a good lawyer (somebody already mentioned Grellas here).

Right now the first thing that you should do is go and talk to SEVERAL lawyers. Find the ones that have free initial consultation, spend 30 minutes with them, they will tell you what your options are. If there's a possibility for a counter suit - you should probably do that.

Also, read your employment agreement several times. In a lot of cases there's a statement that the defeated party will pay attorney's fees. In a lot of cases there is a statement that the company will pay all the fees except first $100-$500. And in a lot of cases the case must be filed with the arbitration, which is much cheaper and if you don't have money to pay for your lawyer - you might have a better chance there.

Talking to several lawyers is indeed important; personally I had once a crappy lawyer telling me my case was hopeless, when it couldn't have been farther from the truth; it's best to have several opinions to understand where does one stand.

First, you do need a lawyer. Do not write or say anything directly as that will bite you in the ass. Hard. If there are scheduled court dates already, make sure you turn up and tell the judge you are seeking time to gain advice and representation and have limited funds. They will generally be sympathetic to that - they won't be sympathetic to a no-show.

If you have no money and no assets (you've just commented you are a student), there is not much to be got from suing you so it's not such a hot strategy on his part.

Depending on where you are (you don't say), there can be legal clinics or even unions/professional bodies who can help out or have on-call lawyers for basic advice and to point you in the right direction. Perhaps the instutution you are studying with may have something to go to first.

I suspect a sensible lawyer would start with a counter suit and some publicity. The fresh oxygen of publicity often curbs bad and bullying behavior - just look at last week's HN for an example of that.

I'd like to help out with the costs. My email address is in my profile.

I don't think you have to worry much about this being a public mark on your record. Bogus lawsuits happen all the time, and especially if the lawsuit is dismissed or if you win it nobody will care a few years from now. So I would focus instead on surviving this lawsuit while taking as little damage as possible. So lawyer up.

Thanks! Another thought I had was to countersue with equally as damning comments. If there's going to be a public document with really bad allegations against me out there, then there should be an equally bad (yet more true) public document with allegations against the company and founder.

Additionally, if you're willing to go to the dark side...

If he's independently wealthy he probably has a lot more to lose than you do. You can use this as leverage. If you can get him in a position where he may lose a lot then you can probably get him to back off and drop the lawsuit.

So be willing and prepared to fight dirty (but still get a lawyer). He's bullying you, and against bullies it's often a good strategy to escalate beyond the comfort zone of the bully. He can afford to sue you because he doesn't feel vulnerable; losing the lawsuit isn't the end of the world to him. This is what you must change. Find a way towards mutually assured destruction.

If he's just a bully he's very likely to back off if you put up a fight.

I wouldn't consider counter-suing in this case to be the dark side. In fact, it may be the best way to get legal representation with little out-of-pocket spend, since the lawyer could work off a percentage of the potential damages.

I would suggest to not do anything that would make yourself look worse in the end. I would avoid saying things negative that he will then turn around and try and sue you (again!) for, such as leaving damning comments in the counter-suit.

However there is nothing wrong with counter-sue(ing) for the cost of your lawyer and the cost of the trial. Find a good lawyer and defend yourself.

Let your lawyer dictate the legal strategy. Any good lawyer knows exactly what pressure points to leverage for the specific situation.

Hello. I have both been sued by a startup and defended myself pro-se (in a different criminal case). I was paid a small sum to do some work, which I did. I delivered the work to contract, but when I did not want to do the additional work involved with actually setting all their stuff up and getting everything deployed, they sued. I didn't have the time or money to deal with it, so I ignored it all, they ended up getting a default judgement against me for double what I was originally paid. I just figured I wouldn't pay them, but they were lawyers so they got my wages garnished (25% of each paycheck). Paid my last part of the garnishment last week.

Don't worry about going pro se from a procedural standpoint - judges are quite accommodating (and frankly, amused) by those of us who choose to represent themselves. I did an exhaustive amount of research prior to trial, and the district attorneys were grossly under-prepared for the case, so I was able to easily put them to shame. Put time into your opening, closing, and preparing your witnesses (including yourself). Watch a few episodes of Law and Order. It actually ends up being a pretty awesome story, whichever way it turns out.

The whole situation is terrible, I've been there. Whatever happens, just know that it's all not a huge deal however it turns out. My current employer didn't have any issues with the suit or with the garnishment, it was fortunate that they gave me the chance to explain myself.

Let me know if you have any questions about anything, b@pan.sx, happy to discuss.

The vast majority of people who represent themselves pro se lose. Lawyers are sneaky and will use your lack of domain knowledge to hurt you unfairly. You need to get a lawyer to balance it out. The judge is not there to be your advocate.

I once paid for lawyer services by building them a website. Just find a lawyer and deal with payment later.

Great suggestion for a possible way for someone on a shoestring budget to compensate a lawyer for their time. Thanks for the reminder that negotiation has power nearly everywhere.

0) LAWYER. Get one. Do whatever she says, including ignore this comment (except for this line).

1) Do not "meet" with the the party suing you or the lawfirm representing them on your own. Do not sign anything they extend to you to "make it go away." Send all communications from them to your LAWYER first, never respond on your own.


Now, it seems that the party suing you is not in it for your money as they know you can't pay; besides, the lawsuit itself costs money, possibly more money than any judge or jury would reasonably award. Instead they're probably looking to:

I) Hurt you

II) Sue your current, previous, future, etc... employers who might actually have money.

III) Both

If you sign something admitting guilt (even if you don't realize it), there is a chance (depending on what they've accused you of, probably not the case for breach of contract but I am not a lawyer) they might use it to start a criminal trial against you (which meets goal I). It is highly unlikely that this trial will happen or that you'll serve any jail time if it does, but it will be absolutely painful.

You've now also opened up the potential for your current employer to be sued (meeting goal II). In turn, your current employer, has the right to sue you (again, helping meet I) and in this case probably for good reason: either you're honest in having caused damage or you've given false testimony.

What the party suing you is counting on is for you to NOT get a LAWYER and to prevail against you in a system that is adversarial. I'm a big fan of the adversarial legal system: it works great for criminal cases where you're guaranteed many rights, most important presumption of evidence, and a defender. However the way it's currently practiced in civil cases is flawed: the goal is for attorney on the either side to win, rather than for both parties to work diligent towards uncovering the truth, but most people don't realize it.

On the other hand, if you do get a LAWYER and are found innocent, the other party will cover your legal fees. If you and your LAWYER settle without going to trial, the legal fees will also be much lower (and you will not have to pay damages).

If you lose, the lawyer can make the loss hurt less: e.g., lessen the damages, avoid a situation that opens you to a criminal trial, etc...


Disclaimer: have never been sued personally, know entrepreneurs who have. Not a lawyer but curious about law. Everyone should also read every comment by grellas and rayiner. If anything said in this comment contradicts the advice of a reputable lawyer you've hired, follow her advice instead.

"On the other hand, if you do get a LAWYER and are found innocent, the other party will cover your legal fees."

Please don't make a blanket statement like this. It's true in some countries, but not everywhere in all situations.

The OP is in the United States, likely not in Louisiana, and being sued in a federal court. I am answering to OP.

That said, if the jurisdiction is different, I am still sure that an hour of talking to a lawyer (who can explain the laws and if legal fees would be covered) would still cost less than losing.

Please notice how my comment also says that if there is difference between my advice and what a lawyer says, take the lawyer's advice.

In tort law, the losing party pays both lawyer fee. In other types of law, this is not the case.

Talk to a lawyer with enough experience in this area to make a judgment call on your case. Then you'll have a better idea of how to move forward. It could be saber rattling, or it could be more. Note, I am not a lawyer.

By "I'm being sued," are you saying that a suit has been filed and you have been served with papers? Do you have a court date?

Excellent point. OP - have you actually been sued / physically served? Or did you just receive a letter threatening you with a suit?

Huge difference. Both require lawyers, but the former will cost more to respond to. The latter typically requires nothing more than an equally-strongly-worded letter right back at them to let them know you're not a pushover.

Remember - from the plaintiff's side - a letter costs a few $hundred. A filed suit costs a few $thousand. A fought suit costs $tens of thousands. A long-fought suit can costs $hundreds of thousands.

It happened to me, and I understand the panic it causes. I joined a startup after college, got paid less than the minimum wage (no kind of equity in the company either) because I found out the financial situation of the company had been misrepresented to me by the co-founder, and I left with the work I hadn't been paid for as collateral (knowing they were going to let me work the month out and were unable and unwilling to pay me). I had my suspicions and I found this out by looking at their conversations on a forum on the server (which I had the root password to).

First thing they did was call the cops for "computer hacking". Cops laughed it off obviously. Then they went to their lawyer. They were desperate for money and thought they could exact revenge. Lawyers really know how to write scary letters and make it seem that you're in a world of trouble, I hope you're aware of that. Really what they're doing is trying to get you to reply to everything they throw at you, so that something can be used against you. They want an admission of guilt, and then they can force you to settle.

I sought free legal advice from a local charity, but they only operate once a month so I had to write back before then. I defended my actions and made allegations against them. Their response was always short, they would never address what I said to them, and they would always try to trip me up on what I said (poorly might I add, based on their poor understanding of technology). One lesson I learned from this is that nothing you say in those letters in your defence goes in your favour, it is only fodder that can be used against you.

The lawyer told me that when writing back to them I should put "without prejudice" on the letters, meaning the letter can't be used as evidence (this was not in the USA however!). Eventually I threw enough stuff at them about wages, their taxes and their activities, threatening to take them to the labour court, that I just stopped hearing from them. In the end they walked away with probably a $1500 bill from their lawyers and nothing to show for it. (good enough for them!)

In summary, don't panic, the lawyers are relying on you panicking. Get a lawyer. If you live in a sane country you can find a free one.

Going through a similar thing (except I was a former founder of the startup). Grellas is my lawyer, highly recommend him as a thoughtful attorney who is not just a rubber stamp.

You can email me at mraiqensame@dunflimblag.mailexpire.com which is a temporary address that expires in 24 hours.

I'd recommend using PlainSite


to see A) which lawyers and firms have represented your former employer, so you know who not to call, B) cases based on the same statute as yours, so you can find lawyers who are experienced in that particular domain, C) information about the judge in your case, and D) what similar case dockets tend to look like.

Good advice, however its good practice to disclose that plainsite.org is your company/organization, when you post.

Everything I suggested doing is free, so I have nothing to gain. Also, there's no other site that allows you to do what I suggested for free.

But yes, it is my site.

Whats wrong going to court in civil case without an attorney? If you have strong case, do not be afraid. I have done it and won, but not in the United State of Attorneys, but in Europe. Act well, judge is gonna even help you to.

It's not impossible to be successful as a defendant in a civil suit representing yourself in the US, but I'm not sure the odds are good. The best case is if the judge immediately recognizes it as a specific kind of nuisance case that they've seen before, and is sympathetic to dismissing it as quickly as possible. In that case they might pretty strongly hint to you exactly what motions you need to file so they can get rid of the case. But it's also quite possible for a groundless case to not look obviously groundless if the defendant doesn't explain why well.

Were you by any chance in a civil-law country (most of Europe outside the UK)? The judges in civil-law systems take on more of a hybrid judge/investigator role, which makes it easier for them to play the role of helping out a defendant, if their investigation finds the facts warrant doing so. It's also more common for them to make decisions of their own accord, while the US norm is that the judges only rule on motions from the parties, rarely sua sponte. That makes it particularly important to file the right motions at the right times, to even give the judge a chance to rule in your favor.

If it were state court, I'd be more inclined to go it alone, but it's federal court. I wouldn't be worried about making my case, but would be more worried about not following the proper rules of civil procedure.

Yes, this is valid concern. It has happened here that you just ask to the judge, that could he/she help you to go through the case. So judge actually did help, stepped in when something needed to say or similar. If you behave well, judge has no reason to dismiss or belittle you. Actually, if this is clearly a bully case, it is easy to win judge to your side. I did exactly that.

There's more i wanted to say. Make your case and stick to the strongest point and strongest point only. Do not answer to any question momentarily, even to the easiest ones - make pause, thnk 5..10 seconds, then answer. Stick to that pause. Never lie. Answer only yes or no answers - yes i did, no i did not. Never ever ever, under any circumstances answer yes, but or no, but. Never. Again, never hurry. Do not settle. Those kind of cases are built to bully you to settle. Even judge will press you to settle at some point. Do not settle, see it through. Keep your plan. Write it down. Stick to it. And you will be fine.

Congratulations! He has done you a favor by suing you. Just think of it as a rite of passage. Take the opportunity and learn from it. In five years time you'll be laughing about it and grateful for the experience.

Are you in the US? Try looking for a local Legal Clinic or Community Law center that helps employees, via http://www.probono.net

Has the startup taken any money? I'd go through a lawyer, but probably a good way to convince the entrepreneur to be sane is through his investors.

Talk to his investors, believe it or not they will be very interested if you do not go public with this.

This sounds more like extortion than a legitimate lawsuit. He's suing you for breach of contract when the breached clauses don't exist, and based on false pretenses, while exploiting an asymmetry in financial resources. I wouldn't be surprised if a good lawyer would find cause for you to turn around and sue him.

Lawyer up. Lawyer up. Lawyer up. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 until you lawyer up.

You can't get blood from a stone. Sounds like he is trying to bully you. Try rational means and as necessary it might make sense to take it public if you have enough of a chorus of people saying this is not warranted and have exhausted all other means.

Try to get some pro-bono help first.

Do not heed this post. Under no circumstances should you take it public before it's seen a courtroom unless you have been advised to do so by a competent lawyer.

(It is no-true-Scotsman territory to note that no competent lawyer would ever do this. It is also accurate.)

Did you consider kicking his ass? Seriously.

> Did you consider kicking his ass? Seriously.

Seriously, you're an idiot. If you escalate to violence the only thing you will achieve is that on top of being sued for whatever he's being sued for right now he's going to:

(1) hand a very large trump card or a free victory to the plaintiff in the other suit

(2) quite possibly end up with a record to boot

It is not completely idiotic to resort to violence, it can be completely effective in many situations, but it is unwise if you aren't comfortable with it. You might end up with your own ass kicked and facing criminal charges if you don't succeed.

Intimidation would work much better here.

You have to create a convincing impression that you are willing to go way farther than he is. You have to look them in the eyes and let them know you mean business. The threat doesn't even have to be real, just make vague allusions to bad shit that's going to happen to them if they don't back off.

You have to dig deep down into that primal part of your brain and draw out dark feelings, then harness and direct them directly at your adversary. Get in his face. It's best to practice in a mirror. Helps if you've had any performing experience or even taken classes, they teach you how to be convincing. If it feels stupid, it will come off stupid, keep practicing until you can fool yourself. Think about various ways he'll respond and prepare for them.

Seriously, you're an idiot. If you escalate to violence the only thing you will achieve is that on top of being sued for whatever he's being sued for right now he's going to:

First, maybe he is an idiot, maybe he isn't, but I definitely don't think it is fair for his comment to be discounted as highly as it is, as quickly.

(1) hand a very large trump card or a free victory to the plaintiff in the other suit

I am no lawyer, but I doubt highly that a physical altercation will change the facts of the original lawsuit, so your assumption here seems false.

(2) quite possibly end up with a record to boot,

quite possible, but that record will stand as a message to future hostile parties. I'm not saying that's always good, it may prevent him from getting a job somewhere, etc., or it may not.

Violence is rarely the answer, but to be so flippant and assume it never is and say "you're an idiot" is really misunderstanding the power dynamic.

In America, the punishment for violence is high relative to the value in almost all cases but there are definitely situations where being a violent aggressor will payoff. I'm not advocating it here, in this case, or any other, but taking that option off the table completely is immature and shows a lack of understanding of how the real world can work.

To support my claim, I'll give an example of where violence was used effectively against me.


1) I had a car repainted when in high school (it has a lot of random damage and I needed to prevent it from rusting.)

2) I negotiated with an independent body shop

3) I had it repainted

4) They didn't do as good of a job as they described.

5) I came back to the body shop, my car was not there, one of the workers had taken it out on a beer run. He came back with the car and he was still drunk.

6) I confronted him in a professional but frustrated manor.

7) His coworker threatened me.

8) I realized I wasn't going to fight this guy without a weapon and decided to back down and just drop it.

The threat of violence worked for him and his coworker. Without it, they had zero negotiating room and the driver would have likely been fired. Could I have gone to the police? Maybe, but they likely wouldn't have done anything.

It's a trump card because there would then be a second case against the defendant. He could say "Settle my first lawsuit and I'll drop assault charges on you", if you don't you'll be broke AND in prison.

> The threat of violence worked for him and his coworker. Without it, they had zero negotiating room and the driver would have likely been fired. Could I have gone to the police? Maybe, but they likely wouldn't have done anything.

They police would have done something if they beat you up.

Or nothing. Without more evidence, it's still he said she said and since it's their garage, they can do whatever they can to clean up before the cops get there. And, let's face it, since cops are there to keep the peace, they will do it in the most convenient way possible... and that may include doing nothing. At least, that's how they work in New York.

To be perfectly honest, is it really worth a black eye and a few broken ribs at best, and internal injuries at worst? Sure, you could sue them, but why risk injury (even permanent injury) when just walking away is also an option. It's not surrender, cause he will still own the car (even with its crappy paint job), it's a strategic withdrawal when the potential loss in a confrontation is unacceptable. Even Sun Tzu would agree.

He may not have liked it one bit, but he did the smart thing. A bruised ego heals a lot faster than a missing eye.

Meanwhile, he can name and shame the garage with every new person he meets without directly confronting them and show the car as evidence of the crappy job. A missile is a safer option than bayonet.

As much as I enjoy winning a moral victory from a hospital bed, I think I'll pass.

Fighting someone with the intention of calling the police afterwards doesn't make sense to me.

Where did i ever say you should have fought them?

> They police would have done something if they beat you up.

They'd have done something even if they hadn't beat him up. Drunk driving? Assault?

Walk away, saying "that's fine, you're right". Then call the police on the drunk driver and come back. Follow up with a civil case for damages, you have the poor job as evidence.

Judging from your panic reaction, you're either a narrow-minded person (an idiot, using your dictionary) or a person who's ass was recently kicked. Most likely you're both.

The fact that you didn't even apologize makes you an asshole as well.

In the future, please be polite and grateful to any advice you're given.

Thanks for the kind words.

This was actually a first reaction for such an unfair situation one can fall no matter in how "civilized" or "developed" country he/she lives.

So after the first angriness goes away, one starts thinking rationally...


Never recur to violence. Never.

Please don't use "This." one-liner. It's corny.


I've had many thoughts. I mostly think about an attorney I once worked with who told me that no startup would ever sue their employee because they'd never get anybody to work for them ever again. And then I thought, "gee, I should make a website that's like glassdoor specifically for startups."

When the issue is done and dusted, definitely write about it. Startups have to compete hard to get tech talent, and if you make your experience known you might save a lot of other people a lot of pain.

Also, it would be nice to know what firms to avoid in the future (I don't want to go into business with a highly litigious company)

> And then I thought, "gee, I should make a website that's like glassdoor specifically for startups."

Which would promptly be subject to defamation lawsuits. Heh.

We like to call those SLAPP suits... California has some pretty awesome tools for disposing of those promptly.

Truth is a defense to libel.

Yes, but it doesn't necessarily pay the defense bills.

Eh, by crossing the street I am "subject to" being hit by a car. I am still able to walk from one side of town to the other, though.

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