man holding box of belongings after a wrongful termination

Wrongful Termination – Know Your Rights

Wrongful termination is when an employer terminates an employee’s employment in violation of their legal rights. It occurs when an employee is fired or laid off for reasons that are illegal or improper under employment laws and regulations. Wrongful termination can take various forms and may involve a breach of an employment contract or a violation of federal, state, or local laws that protect employees from unfair treatment in the workplace.

Specific Examples of Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination is comprised of several categories. One of the most common forms is discrimination. Discrimination is prohibited under laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is the primary law protecting employees from discrimination in employment.

Another common form of wrongful termination is retaliation. This occurs when an employee is terminated for engaging in protected activities, such as reporting illegal activities within the company, whistleblowing, filing a complaint about harassment or discrimination, or participating in a labor union. Retaliation might occur in conjunction with another form of wrongful termination: breach of contract. Where an employment contract exists between the employer and the employee, and the employer violates the terms of that contract by terminating the employee without valid reasons or without following the agreed-upon procedures, it can be deemed wrongful termination.

In some situations, the grounds for wrongful termination may exist even without being formally terminated. This situation is referred to as constructive discharge. An employer may create such a hostile or intolerable work environment that an employee feels compelled to resign. If the conditions leading to the resignation were severe and violated legal protections against harassment or discrimination, it may be treated as wrongful termination.

Overview of Federal Laws Protecting Against Wrongful Termination – Title VII, ADA, ADEA

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law in the United States that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including private companies, labor organizations, and government entities. Title VII identifies certain protected classes, including race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants during the hiring process based on their protected characteristics. The hiring process includes job advertisements, recruitment, and application review.

Employers must provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of protected characteristics. Discrimination in salary, bonuses, benefits, or any other forms of compensation is prohibited. Title VII prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including promotions, assignments, transfers, training opportunities, work assignments, and other terms and conditions of employment.

Title VII also covers harassment based on protected characteristics and prohibits offensive conduct, including unwelcome advances, jokes, or comments that create a hostile work environment. Employers cannot retaliate against employees for exercising their rights under Title VII, such as filing a complaint or participating in an investigation.

It’s important to note that Title VII has been interpreted and expanded through court decisions and subsequent legislation. Therefore, it is advisable to consult an employment lawyer or the EEOC for specific guidance regarding Title VII protections in a particular situation.

Additionally, in California, specific laws, such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and local laws, may provide additional protections against discrimination that complement or go beyond the scope of Title VII.

Tips for Recognizing Signs of Wrongful Termination.

Evaluate the circumstances of your termination and consider the specific details surrounding your termination, including the reasons given by your employer. Study the situation and try to answer the following questions:

  • Did your termination violate any employment contract provisions or the terms of an agreement?
  • Did your termination involve discrimination based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, disability, or national origin?
  • Did your termination occur shortly after engaging in protected activities, such as reporting illegal activities, whistleblowing, or filing a complaint about harassment or discrimination?
  • Did your termination violate any public policy or legal obligations, such as refusing to engage in illegal activities or taking protected leaves of absence?

If you believe the answer to any of these questions is yes, there is a chance that you were wrongfully terminated.

Steps to Take If You’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated

Employment law is complicated, and if you would like to see your situation redressed, you need to take immediate action, including contacting HR, documenting the termination, and seeking legal advice. Preserving the evidence and documenting your claim is crucial. This may include employment contracts, emails, performance evaluations, witness statements, or any other documentation that helps establish a pattern of discriminatory or unlawful treatment. An attorney can help review the evidence you gathered and identify missing evidence.

Individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination must typically file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before pursuing legal action. The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII.  The EEOC investigates complaints and may attempt to resolve them through mediation or pursue litigation on behalf of the complainant. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against can file a lawsuit in federal court after going through the EEOC process.

Remedies Available for Victims of Wrongful Termination 

If a violation of Title VII is found, the remedies may include back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages, and injunctive relief. In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded to deter future discriminatory practices.

If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, we can help.  Our knowledgeable attorneys have counseled many clients who have been wrongfully terminated. If you would like help to resolve your issues, we are happy to answer your questions and provide legal advice. We will step in and investigate the circumstances surrounding your termination and try to restore your employment, and fight for damages.

Call the trusted attorneys at Lowthorp Richards at (805) 981-8555 or fill out our online contact form. We operate primarily in the Tri-Counties area – Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo.

NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.

Cristian R. Arrieta, Lowthorp Richards McMillan Miller & Templeman, A Professional Corporation, 300 E. Esplanade Drive Suite 850, Oxnard, CA 93036