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When Can You Sue an Employer for Wrongful Termination?

Posted on August 5, 2020 | Wrongful Termination

It’s not uncommon for employees who lose their jobs to wonder if they have been wrongfully terminated, especially when an employer offers a vague explanation for the firing or no explanation at all. Wrongful termination is an often-misunderstood legal concept that only applies to a very specific set of circumstances. It occurs when an employee is fired due to discrimination, not layoffs, poor performance, or any of the other reasons people lose their jobs.

The reality of wrongful termination is that most employers of the United States operate under “at-will” employment laws. Basically, at-will employment ensures that both the employer and the employee have the right to end an employment agreement at any time, with or without notice, for any reason or no reason at all. It is, however, illegal to fire someone on discriminatory grounds.

Protections Against Wrongful Termination

Some employment arrangements involve employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements. These contracts typically include clauses that outline each signing party’s rights when it comes to hiring, firing, notice, and related issues. For example, if you signed an employment contract with your employer, it might state you or your employer must provide 30 days of notice if either party wishes to terminate the contract. The contract might even stipulate what grounds are acceptable for issuing such notice. However, the large majority of people working in the United States do not sign employment contracts and are bound only by the regulations of at-will employment laws in their states.

The main safeguard against wrongful termination in the United States is the anti-discrimination laws that exist at the state and federal levels. Essentially, these laws state that it is illegal for any employer to fire or otherwise negatively act upon an employee on the basis of the employee’s protected status. The laws of the United States Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) uphold that it is unlawful for an employer to fire someone on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity or perceived ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex, religion, or any other protected status. The anti-discrimination laws in the United States also include protections for age, disability, sexual identity, and pregnancy.

The only way an employer can commit a wrongful termination is by firing an employee on an illegal and discriminatory basis. If an employer does so and commits a discriminatory firing on the basis of an employee’s protected status, the employee would have grounds to pursue a wrongful termination claim through the EEOC.

Pursuing a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Wrongful termination is often very difficult to prove. An employer who commits a discriminatory firing does so knowingly and will often come up with any available excuse to cover up the true motive behind the firing. It’s also possible for a wrongful termination to occur in response to an employee performing a protected action, such as filing a complaint with a regulatory agency, acting as a whistleblower to report the employer’s unethical or illegal behavior, or filing for workers’ compensation benefits after a workplace injury.

When an employee strongly believes or has evidence to prove a termination was wrongful, they must file a claim with the EEOC before pursuing a discrimination lawsuit against the employer. The EEOC will investigate the claim, interview witnesses, review the available evidence, and ultimately decide whether the claimant has grounds for a discrimination lawsuit against the employer. If approved, the EEOC will grant the claim a Notice of Right to Sue, which the claimant may then use to initiate their discrimination lawsuit.

Proving Wrongful Termination

The at-will employment laws in this country originally intended to ensure employees were not trapped by exploitative employment agreements, but they ultimately present roadblocks in many wrongful termination cases. Essentially, the at-will employment laws of the United States make it very easy for employers to fire employees for any reason, discriminatory or not, with little to no need to justify their actions.

It’s up to wrongfully terminated employees to work closely with their legal representatives and build strong cases. Proving wrongful termination may require gathering physical and digital evidence, such as email correspondence and handwritten notes, and collecting eyewitness testimony from coworkers and other involved parties. If an employer knowingly fired an employee for a discriminatory reason and attempts to hide behind at-will employment statutes, it can be difficult for the terminated employee to prove their case.

Ultimately, a successful wrongful termination claim and a discrimination lawsuit can help a terminated employee achieve reinstatement, ensure professional discipline for discriminatory supervisors and managers, and even secure compensation for the employee’s lost income and emotional suffering for being targeted due to their protected status and unjustly enduring a hostile work environment. If you think you have grounds for a wrongful termination claim in Los Angeles, contact the Law Firm of Omid Nosrati today to schedule a consultation with a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney.

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