Can I Sue a Job Agency?
A job agency is supposed to help you find work — but what if they fail? Or what if the employment agency doesn't get you the job they promised? Even worse, what if the work they get you ends up violating your legal rights?
Under those circumstances, you may sue a job or staffing agency for:
If you've been the victim of any of the above while working with a job agency or working at a job they found for you, talk to an employment law attorney to see if you have a case.
Violations of an Employment Contract
Let's say a temp agency signs an agreement, promising to find you:
- interviews for gainful employment
- with legitimate employers
- within 30 days
The only disclaimer in their contract states that you have to submit a truthful and competent resume that qualifies you for the kind of work the job agency promises to you.
The employment agency's failure to keep its promise can give rise to a lawsuit for both breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation.
You can sue for breach of contract when:
- You have a valid contract with the job agency.
- You held up (“performed") your end of the deal by submitting a truthful and competent resume.
- The job agency breached the contract by failing to hold up its end of the deal (e.g. by not getting you an interview in a timely way, or by getting you an interview with a fake employer).
- You were damaged because you lost time, money, and opportunities for gainful employment.
You can sue for negligent misrepresentation when:
- The job agency makes a misrepresentation of a material fact (e.g. by lying about a prospective employer's credibility and inflating their poor reputation).
- The job agency has no reasonable ground for believing their representation to be true (e.g., they didn't reasonably have any legit reason to embellish the employer's reputation other than to pull you in).
- The job agency intended that you rely on the representation (e.g. because they wanted your business — to make money off of you).
- You justifiably relied on the representation and your reliance caused damages to you.
Sometimes, if a negligent misrepresentation case involves facts that are particularly damning for the job agency and they acted intentionally or recklessly, you might also have a similar claim for fraudulent misrepresentation against them.
Employment Law Violations
There are all sorts of employment law violations that you could sue for. These include:
Federal and state agencies might do investigations of their own, but having your own private lawsuit against a job agency will probably lead to a quicker recovery and larger payout.
Even if you were just a temp worker or an independent contractor, the law gives you a long list of civil employment claims that you can make against a job agency and/or employer who violated your employment rights.
Civil Rights and Discriminations Violations
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. If you've faced employment discrimination while dealing with a job agency or while dealing with an employer found by a job agency, you may be able to sue.
There are various federal laws that protect employees from discrimination:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits race, color, religion, sex, and national origin discrimination.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects job applicants 40 years and older from workplace age discrimination.
If a job agency or an employer referred to you by the job agency violates your civil rights by discriminating against you in the ways described above, you may be able to sue them both.
How Can a Job Agency Be Responsible for an Employer's Misconduct?
It makes sense to sue an employer who did you wrong — but what does that have to do with the job agency?
If the job agency acted in concert with the employer to cause you harm, then the job agency would be a co-conspirator. In other words, the job agency's direct involvement in any discrimination, harassment, or labor law violation means they could be just as liable as the employer.
For example, if a job agency went out of its way to make your national origin a negative aspect of your resume while presenting the resume to a potential employer, and the employer doesn't hire you for the same “negative" reason, both the job agency and the employer acted illegally and may be sued jointly.
But what if the job agency didn't directly do anything wrong? If an employer that they sent your way violates your rights, the job agency can still be responsible under an agency relationship or principal-agent relationship theory.
By the way, it is entirely by coincidence that the phrase “agency relationship" has a word in common with the phrase “job agency." Let's make this distinction clear to avoid confusion:
- A job/staffing/temp agency is a business that provides an employment matching service. It's a job-finding company, so let's call it that from here on to avoid confusion.
- An agency relationship or principal-agent relationship is a legal theory that says someone with authority to act on a principal's behalf makes them the agent of that principal.
If an employer holds itself out as an agent of a job-finding company, then you might be able to sue the job-finding company (the “principal") for the bad actions of the employer (the “agent"). To sue a principal (the job-finding company) for the agent's (employer's) bad deeds, you have to show:
- You reasonably believed that the agent had authority from the principal to act on behalf of the principal; and
- Your belief was a result of some negligence of the principal; and
- You yourself weren't negligent in the ordeal.
For example, let's say you're having some pay issues and you're not sure if they're being caused by the job-finding company or by the employer they found for you.
The employer says to you that you shouldn't worry about talking to the job-finding company. The employer, who seems pretty credible as the CEO of your new workplace, claims they're “the boss" at both places, and it's enough that you would only talk to the employer regarding any problems with your pay.
Still unsure about what to do, you call up the job-finding company and you tell them about what the employer said to you. The job-finding company carelessly hangs up on you without explaining that you're required to speak to the job-finding company directly if the problems with your pay have something to do with the job-finding company's commission deductions.
Here, you may reasonably believe your employer's claim that they have the authority to handle pay issues even when they relate to the job-finding company's commissions. The job-finding company is negligent because they carelessly hung up on you when you confronted them, and you yourself behaved reasonably in trying to figure out to handle your pay issues—to the point that you made the investigative phone call even after your employer reassured you of who is “the boss."
Let's now assume your employer commits some kind of pay violation that affects your wages. In this situation, you may have a strong claim that the employer was an agent of the job-finding company, which would then allow you to sue the job-finding company as a principal under an agency theory of law.
If you sue and win against a job agency (job-finding company), your remedies (recovery) will depend on what you sued for. Most common lawsuits for employment issues have remedies that include:
- Compensatory damages, including back/front pay, lost wages, interest, and lost benefits
- Punitive damages to punish the defendant if their bad behavior was particularly shocking and intentional
- Reinstatement of your job
- Legal costs and attorney's fees
- A court order (injunction) requiring the job agency to stop any illegal activity, such as a discriminatory policy, from being continued into the future
More remedies may be available if you are suing under a specific state or federal law that provides additional recovery, such as statutory damages (special money awards provided by specific laws for specific kinds of violations).
Employment Lawyers Can Help
Different kinds of employment experts can help you sue a job agency. These include:
- Employment rights lawyers — for general employment issues
- Sexual harassment attorneys— for a focus on sex crimes in the workplace
- Wage and hour attorneys — handling payment and workers' compensation issues
- Wrongful termination attorneys — for when you got fired, laid off, or otherwise unfairly lost your job
You can think of all these different kinds of lawyers as employment attorneys because all of these issues have to do with employee rights. However, some employment lawyers focus on handling cases in a very specific area of employment law as listed above, and may have more experience in those areas.
As long as your dispute involves a job agency or employer, most employment lawyers will be qualified to provide legal advice to you on state laws and federal laws. If they're not sure about your specific situation, ask for a referral to one of the bullet point categories above.