October 2, 2018 Category: Wrongful Termination
Earlier this year, a California jury awarded an ex-Chipotle employee nearly $8 million for wrongful termination. According to reports, the employee was accused of stealing a few hundred dollars from a safe at the company’s Fresno location. Her bosses claimed that the theft was caught on film by the store’s security cameras.
However, when the employee pressed her employer to view the footage, she was told that it had been destroyed. She believed her firing was not because of the alleged theft, but rather because she has requested workers’ compensation benefits for a job-related injury. The California jury seemingly agreed and awarded her $7.97 in damages.
What is Wrongful Termination?
In California, employers generally extend “at-will” contracts to employees. This simply means that employees aren’t guaranteed a job for life and that they can be fired for almost any reason. However, there are restrictions that apply.
Employers in California are prohibited from taking adverse employment action based on a protected characteristic. In other words, employers can’t discriminate against employees and fire them because of their age, race, gender, or disability. If you were fired because of a protected characteristic you could potentially file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer.
Employers are also prohibited from taking adverse employment action or firing an employee for exercising certain rights. These include:
- Filing a valid request for workers’ compensation benefits
- Testifying in a workers’ compensation case
- Filing a wage claim dispute
- Taking a reasonable amount of time off for personal reasons
- Taking time off to serve on a jury
- Taking time off due to pregnancy
- Taking time off to tend to family medical issues
- Making safety complaints, or
- Reporting violations of the law.
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee because of a protected characteristic or because the employee exercised his or her legal rights.
How Do I Prove Wrongful Termination?
Since most employment arrangements are “at-will,” it can be difficult to prove that you were fired in violation of the law. You do not necessarily have to prove that the protected classification or fact that you exercised a right was the only reason you were terminated. You will have to show that the protected classification or assertion of your right played a substantial role in your firing.
It will be important to gather any evidence that supports your case. Here are some things to consider as you handle your wrongful termination case.
There was no other valid reason for your termination.
It’s true that employers have the right to fire at-will employees for almost any reason. However, when an employer is accused of wrongful termination, they’ll have to provide some kind of reason to support their decision. You’ll want to make it very clear that there was no legitimate reason for your firing. The only logical explanation is that you were fired for asserting a right or because you demonstrate a protected characteristic.
The employer has a history of firing employees in bad faith.
Does your employer have a history of firing other employees without a reason? Do you suspect that those employees were also fired because of a protected characteristic? Talk to them. Ask them for information about their firing. Determine if it is likely that your employer has demonstrated a pattern of wrongful termination. When you move forward, those employees can provide helpful statements and even testify on your behalf.
Direct evidence of bad faith terminations.
There may be direct evidence to show that you were wrongfully terminated from your position. This could include internal memos or communication between your employer, you, and/or other employees. For example, if your boss emailed you to say that you were fired for participating in a co-worker’s workers’ compensation dispute, you could use that as evidence that you were fired in violation of the law.
Do you believe that you’ve been the victim of discrimination or harassment at work? Do you suspect that you were terminated because you exercised a right or because of a protected characteristic? You may be able to hold your employer accountable for his or her illegal actions. Contact the Briski Law Firm to speak with an experienced wrongful termination attorney.