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Wrongful Termination

Most employees in California are “at will,” meaning employers have the right to terminate employees for almost any reason at any time. However, there are some exceptions to this general principal, which make it unlawful to let someone go from a job. When an employee is wrongfully terminated, it can cause financial fear, harm their self-confidence and mental well-being, and even take away a sense of purpose associated with a fulfilling career. Recognizing these possible consequences from a wrongful termination, as well as the financial stresses that result from a sudden job loss, California may allow employees falling victim to this behavior the ability to get justice through lawsuits to recover compensation from their employer. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, speak to a California employment attorney at Walton Law APC to learn if you may have a claim for compensation.

Discriminatory Wrongful Termination

Employers are prohibited from terminating someone due to discrimination – basically, an employee’s termination was at least partly influenced on the basis of having a protected characteristic such as their gender, race, or age. Even a mix of legitimate and illegitimate reasons will not save an employer from partly basing the termination due to a discriminatory motive.

Because employers will usually not admit to terminating an employee for a discriminatory reason, employees need to gather evidence to show discrimination played a part in their termination. For example, it can be possible to demonstrate an unlawful motive through:

  • Evidence the employer violated its standing company policies when terminating the employee, such as terminating without written warnings which are usually part of the standard procedure.
  • Proof that people lacking the protected characteristic kept their jobs or were promoted.
  • Similar behavior conducted against other employees with the same protected characteristic
  • Termination shortly after requesting pregnancy leave or after disclosing a pregnancy.
  • Discriminatory statements or comments – written or verbal – by a supervisor or employer.
  • Inconsistencies, contradictions, or other indicators that the employer’s reason for termination was a pretext for discriminatory motives. This could mean an employer’s decision to terminate an employee for missing work or absenteeism when they have been praised in all their previous performance evaluations for punctuality and perfect attendance may be a pretext to cover up an unlawful motive.
Retaliatory Wrongful Termination

California employees are also given protection under both federal and state laws from an employer’s retaliatory behavior if they assert their legal rights or report illegal activities occurring in the workplace. Employers are prohibited from terminating any employee who engages in protected conduct such as:

  • Complaining about or reporting labor code violations such as failure to pay overtime
  • Reporting or objecting to harassment
  • Speaking up or complaining about discrimination
  • Asking to take advantage of their legally entitled rights like medical leave
  • Contacting an outside agency or government entity to report legal violations by the company, or reporting the problem to someone within the company who has the power to correct it
  • Reporting unsafe working conditions
  • Refusing to comply with a supervisor or employer’s order to participate in any illegal activities

To prevail in a retaliatory wrongful termination claim, employees who do not have direct evidence that the employer was at least partly motivated by a desire to retaliate, must rely on indirect evidence. Finding events or statements that raise doubts about the consistency or truth of an employer’s stated motive and their actual motive can be persuasive in showing the stated cause for termination was pretextual to cover an unlawful motive.

Breach of Contract Due to Wrongful Termination

Employees who are not “at will” may have formal written employment contracts or contract implied based on their communication with their employer. These contracts usually contain clauses that address scenarios when termination may be appropriate and set out remedies for breach of contract claims.

Most often, claims arise when employees have entered a contract for a designated period of time and the employer terminates them prior its expiration – usually claiming a failure to perform justified the termination. However, it is possible for an employee to overcome this argument by showing it is pretextual; perhaps the company was struggling financial and the employer used the termination as a way to cut costs, or the employee can show their performance evaluations and productivity were above average every year on the job. There may also be a claim for fraud if evidence exists the employer never intended to keep the employee for the entirety of the period covered in the contract.

Constructive Termination

In some cases, an employee may still have a claim even when they were not fired. In California, constructive discharge claims may be brought when employers seek to avoid terminating an employee and make conditions at work unpleasant enough that they resign instead of being formally terminated. If a reasonable person in that situation would feel compelled to resign, constructive termination may be present. For example, permitting harassment, demotions, pay cuts, and hour reduction may all make working conditions sufficiently intolerable for a claim to move forward.

Termination for Other Unlawful Reasons

Employers are also prohibited from terminating a California employee who exercises their legal rights or fulfills certain other obligations. Taking leave because of a call to begin or return to active military duty, protected family leaves, and medical leave are all legally protected. Employees who lose their jobs for asking to take their legally protected leave or taking the leave may all have a claim for wrongful termination.

Contact an Attorney Today

Losing your job is a stress-inducing, life-changing experience that can throw your finances into turmoil and add unnecessary worry to your life. When that termination is illegal, it adds insult to injury. Even if your employer does not tell you the real reason for a termination, the skilled California employment lawyers at Walton Law, APC can evaluate your situation and help determine if you may have a claim for wrongful termination. Get in touch with us 24/7 by calling (866) 338-7079 or by using our Contact Us page to schedule your no obligation, confidential case review today. The initial consultation is always free. Our attorneys are here to answer your questions, explain your options, and fight for justice on your behalf.

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