A wrongful termination is said to have occurred when an individual has been fired for reasons that are illegal such as those pertaining to discrimination or harassment. In other words, an employee who has been terminated illegally, in violation of state or federal laws, can file a wrongful termination lawsuit seeking compensation for damages.
It is also illegal to fire an employee simply because they lodged a legal complaint against the employer or because an employee brought the employer's wrongdoing to light as a whistleblower. This type of action is considered "retaliatory." If you believe you have been terminated from your job wrongfully or illegally, there are a number of actions that you would be well advised to take in order to protect your rights.
Document Everything About Your Job and Termination
In a wrongful termination case, the evidence you can show to prove that you were wrongfully terminated is absolutely critical. In order to prove wrongful termination, it is important to ensure that you have written documentation of statements and other evidence that you might be able to use during the case. This may be something as simple as a derogatory comment from your employer. If you are documenting a comment, make sure you include the time, place and names of people present when that comment was made.
It really helps to be organized. Be consistent with maintaining written records of all pieces of evidence that are critical to your case. Specifically, here are some of the items that are important to your case:
- Official paperwork.
- Your personnel file.
- Your termination notice or layoff notice. If you were fired face to face, write down the details of your conversation and discussion, if any. Include the time, date and place where it occurred so you have accurate documentation.
- Your job performance reviews.
- Employee handbooks and/or policies.
- Your employment contract, if you have one.
- Union contracts.
- Documentation of official communications such as memos or emails.
- Pay stubs. These are important to help you calculate how much money you lost because of the wrongful termination.
- Interviews with co-workers. If your co-workers witnessed discrimination, harassment or any type of unfair treatment, their statements can be extremely valuable to your case.
- Keep documents important to your case in a place where you can access them right away. Remember that when you are fired or asked to leave the premises, you will lose access to documents and information that are stored in your work computer. This is why it's a good idea to have the documents and copies at home.
Find an Experienced Employment Attorney
The complexities of wrongful termination can make it challenging for an average person to determine whether or not they have a valid claim. An experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer can help analyze all facts and details of your case, look at your specific situation and give you his or her determination. An attorney will also know what the federal, state and local regulations are and how they apply to your case.
So, what does an employment attorney cost to retain? Typically, initial consultations with employment laws are free. So, getting that initial assessment with a consultation will not cost you anything. If a lawyer ends up accepting your case, you want to enter into a contingency fee agreement where the attorney only gets paid if the case is won. Look for a law firm that offers a no-win, no-fee guarantee.
Usually, employment lawyers get a percentage (30-40%) of the amount that is awarded. You will have to pay official costs that are associated with the lawsuit such as court fees, services fees, court reporter expenses and so on. It's always a good idea to get a clarification from your attorney about what costs will be borne by the lawyer and what portions you will need to pay.
Filing a Complaint
An experienced employment lawyer will also know where you need to file your complaint. The location where you file will usually depend on the cause for your wrongful termination. For example, a lawsuit alleging breach of contract is filed in civil court, either in a state or federal court. Wrongful termination lawsuits that stem from discrimination are filed at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the appropriate state agency. If the EEOC deems your complaint as valid, you will be able to take further action against your employer.
The EEOC has a self-assessment tool to find out if filing with the EEOC is right for case. Your attorney will help you write your complaint. Your former employer must be served notice, which can be done via certified mail with return receipt requested, through the county sheriff and through a professional process server. Once your notice has been served, it must be filed with the court clerk. A knowledgeable employment attorney will be able to ensure that these important processes are followed so your case moves smoothly through the system.
Proving that Your Termination Was Illegal
There are many ways to prove that your termination was wrongful and illegal. Getting to case to court involves the following process and steps:
Before a case goes to trial, each party must share all relevant documents and information that will be used during the trial to prove the case. There are usually three elements to the discovery process. A "written discovery" involves each party submitting written questions to the other. These questions are known as "interrogatories." It is mandatory for each question to be answered unless there is a legal reason not to do so. During the "document production" part of the discovery process, each side can request to see documents that are relevant to the case. In a wrongful termination case, this might include the employee's personnel file, employee handbooks, policy manuals, etc. Finally, each side can interview the other side and any witnesses in the case. Those who are deposed will be under oath and the interviews are recorded by a court reporter. The statements made during a deposition can and often will be used during the trial.
Alternative dispute resolution:
A majority of wrongful termination lawsuits are settled out of court, before your case goes to trial. You will also have the option of deciding whether a mediation or arbitration would be more desired than going to court. Some courts may require both sides to try mediation before setting a trial date. Mediation is a process that may help parties reach a compromise with the assistance of a neutral third party. Arbitration is a simplified trial where the rules of discovery and procedures are made simpler.
Going to trial:
If both parties are unable to reach a settlement and if mediation or arbitration has not been helpful, your case may proceed to trial. During a trial, both parties will present their evidence and witnesses. A judge or jury will make the final determination with regard to the case's outcome.
How Much Could Your Case Settle For?
If you are considering suing an employer for wrongful termination, you may be wondering what your case is worth. Typically, in these types of cases, your settlement will be calculated based on your damages, which are the losses you have suffered as the result of the wrongful termination. You will be required to prove these damages or losses with documents and other evidence.
What Damages Can You Receive from a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit?
You may be able receive the following types of monetary damages as part of your wrongful termination settlement:
This refers to any back pay you would have received, had you remained employed. This includes bonuses, any type of interest, pay raises including cost of living adjustments and increases in pay from promotions. In such cases, plaintiffs are expected to "mitigate" their losses, which means they are expected to find a similar job as soon as possible. If the employer can prove that the employee failed to do so, the calculated mitigated amounts could be deducted from the settlement. Lost front pay can be claimed if the fired worker finds a new job with lower pay.
Benefits are a substantial part of most workers' compensation packages. So they must be included in calculations showing economic damages after a wrongful termination. Benefits include healthcare coverage, pension plans, retirement savings, stock options and transportation reimbursements.
If the terminated employee's insurance coverage has changed and he or she is incurring additional medical expenses, those may be included in the claim.
Cost of job searches:
Those looking for a job may also incur costs. Studies show that plaintiffs who filed for this type of damaged received an average settlement three times higher than those who did not.
This is also known as compensation for pain and suffering. A jury will award such damages if the employer's actions caused the employee emotional distress. Such damages can be verified by testimony from a psychologist or psychiatrist.
In some cases, you can also recover fees paid to your attorneys.
These types of damages are awarded to punish employers who have committed an egregious offense. Courts may also award these types of damages to deter other employers from engaging in such egregious behavior or committing such violations.
Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Wrongful Termination Claim?
A wrongful termination claim can be extremely complex. You need someone with a thorough understanding of the law as well as the specific state statutes that apply to your particular case. Also, these types of civil lawsuits require plaintiffs to follow strict procedures and timelines, which can prove confusing, challenging, and even intimidating. So, if you need to file a claim for wrongful termination, it may be in your best interest to retain the services of an experienced employment lawyer who can help determine whether you have a claim. Your lawyer can also provide advice about the relevant laws and procedures in your area and can help you file your claim. You also need a lawyer who has trial experience and can take your case to a trial if it becomes necessary.
State Employment Laws and Exceptions
All 50 states including California recognize "at-will employment." This means that an employer can terminate your employment at any time for any reason and without any legal ramifications. However, there are a few exceptions, which allow employees to fight any wrongful or illegal terminations. Your employer may be liable if you were fired under the following circumstances:
Violations of public policy: The term "public policy" refers to the doctrine on which social laws are based. These are laws that exist for the benefit of everyone in our society. It is a violation of public policy for an employer to fire an employee for engaging in actions such as participating in jury duty or taking time to vote. It is also illegal to fire someone because he or she filed a workers' compensation claim for an injury sustained on the job or refused to break the law, lie under oath or engage in discriminatory behavior. The public policy exception extends to whistleblowers, but only when it concerns health and safety, violations of the law, illicit activities or unethical business practices. Forty-three states including California have adopted public policy exceptions.
Written employment contracts: Such contracts are typically offered only to executives and upper management. It is a legally binding agreement and both employer and employee must abide by the terms and conditions spelled out in the contract. When the employer fires the employee in violation of a written contract, the employee has a basis for a wrongful termination case.
Implied contract of employment: An implied contract is an agreement that is not in writing between an employer and employee. For example, you may have an implied contract with your employer if they made statements regarding your job security or verbally promise you a specific job title. Also, when employers tell employees their rights and duties of employment are in the companies published handbook, the employer has a legal duty to not terminate an employee as long as he or she is complying with the guidelines in the handbook. In such cases, the employee handbook serves as the implied contract of employment.
Covenant of good faith: A "covenant" is defined as a promise or an agreement. A covenant of good faith in the context of employment is an agreement between an employer and employee to deal with each other honestly and fairly. A covenant of good faith resembles an implied contract. The unspoken agreement here is that the worker will continue to keep his or her job until they follow the rules with honesty and fairness. A breach in the covenant occurs when an employee is terminated in spite of performing all job duties faithfully. For example, when a company fires an employee right before he or she is to retire just to avoid paying full retirement benefits, will be considered a breach of good faith.
Constructive discharge: This is also known as "constructive termination" and essentially means that the employee quit, but only because they were forced out by the employer's behavior. Since the worker did not voluntarily resign, he or she is considered terminated. This situation occurs when an employer deliberately changes an employee's working conditions and work environment to make it intolerable for him or her to continue. Employees who resign in this manner are usually ineligible for unemployment benefits. If you were forced out of your job, be it due to harassment, discrimination or a hostile work environment, it is important that you talk to an experienced employment lawyer to better understand your rights.
Federal Laws and Wrongful Termination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC is responsible for enforcing the federal laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate employees because of their protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy or genetic information such as family medical history. Discriminating against an employee violates federal law. It is also against federal law to fire an employee because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a discrimination charge or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Attorneys Win Larger Employment Verdicts
Even though you can file a complaint with the EEOC, which doesn't necessarily require legal representation, it would still be in your best interest to retain the services of a knowledgeable and experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer. Attorneys have the legal expertise that is needed to uncover evidence and determine the nature and scope of your case.
Your attorney can also force your employer to turn over crucial documentation such as copies of internal records you may not even know about or have access to such as your personnel file, company financial records, employment policies, internal emails and memos, and even security or surveillance camera footage.
Your attorney can question your employer or supervisor under oath during the discovery process, arrange for expert witness testimony and examine your employer's files and official documents. Your lawyer can also help you get additional compensation in punitive damages if he or she can prove that your employer engaged in egregious behavior.
The employment lawyers at Kingsley& Kingsley don't charge for an initial consultation and offer a no-win no-fee guarantee, which means you don't pay fees if you don't win compensation. There is too much at stake in a wrongful termination lawsuit to fight on your own without the solid support an experienced employment lawyer or law firm can offer you.
Wrongful Termination: Questions & Answers
What is wrongful termination law?
Wrongful termination law refers to the statutes that have been put in place to safeguard the rights of individuals and protect them from being terminated wrongfully. These laws also determine the type and amount of compensation that individuals can seek if they have wrongfully terminated by an employer.
When is a termination considered "wrongful?"
There are a number of factors that determine what constitutes wrongful termination. The most common wrongful termination cases involve those where an employer has discriminated against an employee because of his or her race, sexual orientation or beliefs. If you believe that you have been wrongfully or illegally terminated from your job, it is important that you contact an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer to further explore your legal options.
Does at-will employment affect wrongful termination cases?
California is an at-will employment state. This means that your employer can terminate your employment and not provide a cause. Similarly, employees can quit their jobs without providing a reason or justification. Therefore, it can be challenging to prove wrongful termination. However, an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer will not only be able to tell the difference, but also help determine whether you have a claim and help you prove that you were wrongfully terminated.
Should I hire a wrongful termination lawyer if I believe I've been terminated wrongfully?
Yes, it is imperative that you speak with an attorney who has specific knowledge and experience in the area of wrongful termination law. There are a number of criteria that must be met to prove your case. A knowledgeable lawyer will also ensure that all paperwork is filed properly and within the deadlines.
When should I hire a lawyer?
It would be in your best interest to retain the services of a wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible. Since there are statutes of limitations when it comes to wrongful termination, waiting to act could keep you from getting the compensation you rightfully deserve.
I filed a worker's compensation claim with my employer and was fired soon after. Do I have a wrongful termination lawsuit?
It is possible that you have a lawsuit against your employer for retaliation, which is also illegal. Filing a worker's compensation is your right, if you believe you were injured on the job. Your employer cannot retaliate against you if you did something you had a right to do.
Can I file a lawsuit if my employer fired me because he or she does not like me?
In a wrongful termination case, the plaintiff must prove that he or she was fired because of an illegal act such as discrimination, harassment or retaliation. For example, if your employer did not like you because of your race, religion or sexual orientation, and made that known to you with their actions and behavior, you may have a lawsuit.
Can my employer fire me because I reported something they did that was illegal?
No, your employer cannot fire you for reporting an illegal activity. For example, if you reported unsafe conditions in your workplace that could potentially cause injuries to workers, and your employer fired you for this, it would be considered as "retaliation," which is illegal.
Get Help From Experienced, Proven Attorneys
If you believe that you have been fired illegally, our Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley can help you determine whether you have a valid claim. We will remain on your side, fight for your rights and help ensure that you receive maximum compensation for your losses. Call us at 888-209-8927 for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.