Losing your job under any circumstances can be a traumatic and stressful experience. However, if your job termination was illegal or came under unfair circumstances in which you were harassed, discriminated or retaliated against, it is particularly egregious. A firing or layoff that involves violations of the law is known as wrongful termination.
If you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, you may be able to obtain compensation for your losses. You have rights under California and federal laws, which can be enforced by the courts. If you are facing such a challenging situation, it is imperative that you contact an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer who will remain on your side, fight for your rights and help you seek fair compensation for your tremendous losses.
Understanding Wrongful Termination Laws
If you have been terminated or fired from your job, the first question to ask yourself is whether the firing was legal or illegal. In California, most employment is "at will," which means an employee may be fired at any time for any reason or for no reason at all, but as long as that reason is legal. However, there are some critical exceptions to at-will employment.
If you have a written job contract with your employer that sets forth the conditions of your employment and the duration of such a contract, you are not an at-will employee. For example, you may have a job contract that states you will be employed for a specific duration. You may also have an offer letter or other written document that promises you continued employment. If you have such contracts in place, you may be able to enforce them in court.
An implied contract, which is essentially an agreement based on things your employer said and did, is also another exception to the at-will rule. However, this type of a contract may be challenging to uphold because this type of wrongful termination can be difficult to prove. Courts in California examine a number of factors when it comes to determining whether an implied contract existed. These factors include the duration of your employment; frequency of job promotions; positive performance reviews; assurances of continued employment; whether your employer gave you notice of a firing or layoff; and whether you were assured of long-term or permanent employment when you were hired.
Unfair Workplace Practices
If your employer breached their duty or acted in bad faith, they may have acted illegally in firing you. Examples of wrongful termination include:
- Deliberately misleading employees about chances of promotions or salary increases.
- Laying off an older worker to replace him or her with a younger person who will work for lower pay.
- Transferring employees to undesirable locations and assignments with the intention of forcing them to quit without collecting severance pay or other benefits to which they would be entitled.
- Misleading employees about negative aspects of a particular job in order to trick them into taking on the job or assignment.
- Taking adverse action against an employee to prevent him or her from collecting commissions or other payments that are due to them.
Violations of Public Policy
It is against the law to violate public policy while firing a worker. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for taking time of to vote, serve on a jury, taking time off to serve in the military or National Guard or because he or she filed a workers' compensation claim for an injury that was sustained on the job. Employees also cannot be fired for notifying the authorities about illegal activity or wrongful activity that is going on at the workplace. This is known as "whistleblowing." For example, you cannot be fired for alerting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about unsafe conditions in the workplace.
Discrimination and Retaliation
It is illegal for companies to fire at-will employees based on discrimination. If you were fired because of protected characteristics such as race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability or pregnancy, it is important that you speak with a wrongful termination lawyer right away. There are statutes of limitations or deadlines that apply to discrimination claims. So, time is of the essence.
Employers are also prohibited under the law from retaliating against workers who have engaged in activities that are legally protected. Plaintiffs in workplace retaliation lawsuits must show that they lost their job as the direct result of their employer's retaliation. Workers must show that they were engaged in an activity that is protected under the law such as filing a complaint with the human resources department or with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Plaintiffs must also show that the employer's retaliatory action had adverse consequences on the job such as a demotion, salary decrease or an unwarranted negative performance review.
The purpose of a defamation lawsuit is to protect your reputation and good standing in the community. In order to prove that defamation was a factor in your job loss, you must be able to show that in the process of firing you or subsequently providing references, your employer made false or malicious statements about you and sabotaged your job search efforts. To sue for defamation, you must show that your employer made a false or inaccurate statement about you and did so with malice, meaning it was deliberately false. Your employer should have conveyed this false information at least to one other person (verbally or in writing) and harmed you by communicating this information. Such harm may include job loss or preventing another employer from hiring you.
What Steps Do You Need to Take?
If you think you have been wrongfully terminated from your job in Los Angeles, there are a number of steps that are important to take in order to protect your rights. Here are a few crucial guidelines that can help.
Time is of the essence. It is important to remember that you have 21 days from the date of your firing to consider any severance packages your employer may have offered you, and seven days to change your mind. If you believe you were fired as a result of discrimination, you can seek advice from an EEOC counselor for 45 days from the date the discrimination occurred. If you plan to file a charge or complaint at the EEOC, you must do it within 180 calendar days. Talk to an experienced wrongful termination lawyer about different deadlines including deadlines for filing wrongful termination lawsuits in California.
Document everything. In order to prove that you were fired wrongfully, it is important to ensure you have documentation. You can document these details in many, different ways. For example, you may choose to write down incidents or events that show harassment or discrimination in a journal. It is important that you write down the date and time the incidents occurred as well as the place and names of others who were present at the time.
There are also other documents that will be critical such as your personnel file, termination notice, performance reviews, employee handbooks or policies, employment contract if you have one, union contracts, pay stubs and copies of emails, internal memos, direct messages and other written communications that could reveal important details. Write down names and contact information for colleagues or former colleagues who witnessed the discrimination or harassment, who are willing to corroborate your account of what occurred.
Retain the services of a wrongful termination lawyer. You may wonder, "Do I need a wrongful termination attorney?". Wrongful termination cases can be extremely complex and challenging to face on your own. It is crucial that you contact an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer who can help analyze your specific situation and give you his or her take on your case. Lawyers who handle these types of cases will also have knowledge about local and state laws relating to discrimination. Some states such as California and jurisdictions such as Los Angeles have more stringent laws when it comes to protecting employees.
Stay away from social media. Don't post anything about your firing, layoff or discriminatory treatment on social media. Privacy is highly questionable online regardless of the number of safeguards you may think you have. Our wrongful termination lawyers advise our clients not to post any information on social media and in many cases, to even take down their social media sites until their case is resolved. This is because we know that attorneys for your employer are scouring all your social media sites for posts that may help their case. Even seemingly innocent posts, photos or videos can be twisted and used against you. Anything you post online can be used against you in court.
The Complaint Process
Your lawyer will be able to advise you regarding when, where and how you should file the complaint. This will depend largely on how and why you were terminated from your job. For example, if your employer breached your job contract, you would most likely file the lawsuit in a state or federal civil court. Wrongful termination claims triggered by discrimination are filed at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or at an appropriate state agency.
The EEOC will then investigate your claim. If the agency finds your claim valid, you will be able to take further action against the employer. The EEOC also has a self-assessment tool, which your lawyer can help use, to find out if filing with the agency is appropriate for your case. Your attorney will help write your complaint. Your former employer will then be served the formal notice. Once the notice has been served, it must be filed with the court clerk.
Once all paperwork has been filed, the actual litigation process will begin. Before a case goes to trial, there is the "discovery" process, which is when each side will be required to share all relevant documents and information with the other. Discovery may be in the form of questions and answers or through relevant documents, which will be used as evidence during the trial.
Depositions are also an important part of the discovery. This is where each side has the ability to interview the other as well as any witnesses in the case. Those who are deposed in this manner are under oath to tell the truth. Depositions are recorded by a court reporter and transcripts of these depositions will be made available to attorneys from both sides during the trial.
A majority of wrongful termination cases are resolved out of court. Some cases may go to trial. It is important that you consult with your employment attorney before signing off on a settlement offer or any type of agreement.
Damages in a Wrongful Termination Case
Wrongful termination cases are civil lawsuits where the person filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff, is asking the court to order an employer, the defendant, to pay monetary damages to compensate you for the losses caused by the job termination. Here are some of the damages that may be awarded in a wrongful termination case:
Lost wages: You may be entitled to the wages you would have received if your employer had not fired you as well as any earned and unpaid wages, overtime or other compensation you have earned, but not received. This amount will likely be reduced by any wages you earn after being terminated, for example if you get hired at the same or higher rate of pay. If you get hired at a lower pay, you will continue to receive lost pay damages equal to the difference between what your old job paid and what you are earning at your new job.
Lost benefits: You will be able to receive the value of lost employment benefits. These benefits may include medical and dental insurance, pension, retirement benefits such as 401k plans, stock options, etc.
Pain and suffering: You may also seek compensation for emotional distress. This could particularly apply to cases where the employer has acted badly and the employee has suffered emotional distress that can be verified by a mental health professional. For example, if the employee suffered from depression or anxiety after the job loss, which can be verified by his or her psychiatrist, the plaintiff is likely to receive these damages.
Punitive damages: These are awarded in addition to compensatory damages. These damages are awarded in the most egregious cases and are intended to not only punish the defendant, but also to deter similar behavior by others in the future.
Attorney's fees: In some wrongful termination cases, you may also be able to recover attorney's fees and other court costs.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you have been illegally fired from your job or if you have faced discriminatory or harassing behavior from your employer that led up to your job loss, it is crucial that you contact an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer who can help uphold your legal rights and help you secure maximum compensation for your losses. At Kingsley & Kingsley, we offer a no-win-no-fee guarantee, which means we don't charge you fees until we recover compensation for you. Call us today at 888-500-8469 for a free consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.d