How Can a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer Help?
Losing your job under any set of circumstances can cause mental stress and financial hardship. Wrongfully losing your job through no fault of your own can cause additional feelings of betrayal and deception. An experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer at Attorneys for Employees (AFE) understands the challenges you are facing. With a practice that focuses on helping employees, we can provide a case review and help you understand your options.
At-Will Employment in Los Angeles According to Our Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyers
According to California Labor Code 2922, California is an “at-will employment” state, which means the employer or the employee may end the working relationship at any time. However, being an at-will state does not give employers the right to terminate employees for reasons that are illegal. When they do a claim for wrongful termination is often the result.
Examples of Wrongful Termination
Listed below are examples of some of the most common types of wrongful terminations.
- You were terminated for whistleblowing, which is reporting your company’s activities that you reasonably believed to be illegal.
- Your company terminated you as part of discriminatory conduct based on your sex, race, religion, age, disability, or other protected class status.
- Your company terminated you after reporting unlawful discrimination, such as sexual, racial, disability, age, or marital status.
- You were fired due to reporting unsafe work conditions or unpaid wages.
- You were terminated for violation of an implied contract, such as any verbal agreement or an agreement reached through a party’s conduct or behavior.
This list is far from all-inclusive, so if you believe you have been the victim of wrongful termination for any reason, contact our firm today to learn how we can help you.
What Are Grounds for Wrongful Termination?
As mentioned above, California is an “at-will” employment state. This means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, or even for no reason at all. However, this rule is not without exception. Even with at-will employment, employers can illegally terminate employees and expose themselves to a wrongful termination lawsuit.
In short, employees can pursue a wrongful termination claim if their employers fired them in violation of state or federal law. There are several, well-recognized exceptions to at-will employment in California.
Breach of Contract
Many employees sign a contract when they start their jobs. These contracts may include provisions guaranteeing that they will be employed for a specific period of time or that they can only be terminated “for cause.” In other words, “at-will” employment does not override the provisions of an employment contract. Employees who are terminated in breach of their employment contracts can pursue wrongful termination claims against their employers.
As an aside, California does recognize verbal or implied contracts. In other words, an employer’s verbal statements can create a binding contract that gives rise to a wrongful termination claim.
Case Study: Wrongful Termination Arising from Breach of Contract
Joe is a truck driver. He signs a contract with a trucking company for the next three years unless he is terminated for cause. The contract contains language specifying what types of conduct would be considered grounds for termination prior to the expiration of his contract.
Joe is now two years into his job. He has received consistently positive reviews and has not had any incidents on or off the job that would be considered cause for termination. Unfortunately, he is informed one day without warning that he no longer has a job with the company, effective immediately. No reason is given.
Joe may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim because his termination was a breach of his employment contract for two reasons: (1) because he was terminated prior to the expiration of his contract; (2) because he was fired without cause. It is likely that his employer will try to argue that they had cause for his termination, but they will have to prove that they had some legitimate reason for his termination pursuant to the terms of his contract.
State and federal law protects employees from discrimination on the basis of their race, age, gender (including gender expression and gender orientation), disability or medical condition, sexual orientation, religion, pregnancy, marital status, or military or veteran status. Both state and federal law prohibits employers from terminating employees for discriminatory reasons, and those employees may be able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against their employers.
Case Study: Discrimination and Wrongful Termination
Linda is a 45-year-old African-American woman who works in tech sales for a company named Blue Recall. She has been at the company for several months when she is promoted to team leader.
It quickly becomes apparent that she is not liked by a couple of the more senior team leaders. They go out of their way to find fault in her work. They arrange to have other team members who have a history of underperforming reassigned from their teams to hers. As her team’s performance declines, she begins to receive negative reviews. Eventually, she is let go. At her exit interview, her manager tells her that it was for performance reasons, but the company also wants to have a more youthful corporate culture at that level.
After losing her job, another team leader confides in her that her team’s performance was better than at least three other teams. None of those team leaders were terminated, and one of the team leaders is 52. The other team leader overheard conversations suggesting that Linda’s termination was racially motivated.
If Linda can gather evidence to support the claim that her termination was racially motivated, she can file a wrongful termination lawsuit. In addition, she may also have a wrongful termination claim based on the fact that she was purportedly discriminated against on the basis of her age. Wrongful termination cases based on discrimination can be very difficult for non-lawyers to pursue, so Linda should consult with a wrongful termination lawyer before taking action.
It is also against the law for employers to fire employees for exercising specific employment rights. As a result, you may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim if you were fired as a result of filing a workers’ compensation claim, filing a wage or hour claim, taking time off for jury duty, requesting medical or family leave, or filing a complaint alleging discrimination or harassment.
Case Study: Wrongful Termination Arising from Retaliation
José works as a building engineer for a large apartment complex. He often works through his lunch breaks and discovers that he has not been paid for over 50 hours of overtime. He brings these issues up with his supervisor, who tells him he will take care of it. Nothing happens, and so he follows up with his supervisor. His supervisor tells him to speak with the general manager. The general manager tells him that he has no record of his overtime or of the fact that he works through his lunch breaks, but will “see what he can do.”
José continues working and receiving his regular pay, but his supervisor continues to have him work through his lunch breaks and work more than 40 hours per week. His supervisor promises him he will be paid overtime, but there is nothing he can do about the lunch breaks – they have to keep the residents happy. José does as he is told, but does not get paid overtime.
Eventually, José files an online complaint with the Labor Commissioner’s office. After his employer is notified of the complaint, the general manager terminates José, claiming that he was underperforming. José has no complaints or other negative reviews or other indications of poor performance in his personnel file. José can pursue a wrongful termination claim if he can prove that he was fired in retaliation for filing his wage claim with the Labor Commissioner.
It is also against the law to terminate an employee if it would be in violation of public policy. These claims often look very similar to retaliation claims, in that the termination is often retaliatory. However, public policy claims do not necessarily involve the exercise of specific rights. Instead, they recognize that public policy should not allow employers to terminate employees for things such as exercising their general legal rights, refusing to engage in illegal activity, or whistleblowing.
Case Study: Wrongful Termination and Violations of Public Policy
Natalie is a medical technician with a medical group. She is passionate about immigration reform and attends a rally in Sacramento over the weekend. She is tagged in several posts on social media.
The following Friday she is laid off – due to budget cutbacks, her position is being eliminated. After being terminated, a co-worker tells her that no one else was let go, and she believes that the company is already interviewing candidates for her position. She suspects that she was terminated for attending the rally, as one of the owners of the medical group is strongly opposed to many of the reforms put forward at the rally. They are connected via social media, so it is likely that he would have seen the posts that she was tagged in.
Natalie was exercising her freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in a manner that is protected by law. Attending the rally did not affect her ability to do her job or negatively affect her employer in any way. Because it would be contrary to public policy to allow her employer to terminate her for this reason, she may be able to pursue a wrongful termination claim.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Termination?
As a wrongfully terminated employee, it is up to you to prove your legal rights. So, how do you prove wrongful termination? The answer to this question depends on your individual circumstances. When you hire a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney to represent you, your lawyer will determine what evidence is available. This may include evidence of:
1. Illegal Termination (i.e., Discriminatory Termination)
In some cases, the evidence will clearly point toward illegal termination. Despite their efforts to avoid doing so, employers will often create a paper trail that terminated employees can use to prove that they are victims of discrimination, retaliation, or termination on other unlawful grounds. This includes evidence such as:
- Employment records that show different treatment of other employees;
- Internal memos;
- Positive performance reviews; and
- Text messages.
In addition to these forms of documentary evidence, our Los Angeles wrongful termination attorneys may be able to use circumstantial evidence to establish your claim. For example, if you are the only ethnic minority in your workplace and the only person to get fired, your termination may be wrongful. Your employer may try to present evidence showing you were terminated due to poor job performance. Depending on the nature of the evidence presented by your employer, circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to demonstrate that your firing was illegal and that your employer’s excuse for firing you is merely a pretext for engaging in racial discrimination.
2. Mixed-Motive Termination
Wrongful termination cases can also involve what is known as mixed-motive termination. This is when an employee’s termination is based on both legitimate and illegitimate considerations. Assuming your employer had valid grounds to terminate your employment for cause (i.e., a serious breach of conduct in the workplace), if discrimination or retaliation was a substantial motivating factor in your employer’s decision to fire you, you may possess a valid wrongful termination claim under California or federal law.
Proving a mixed-motive termination typically requires the same types of evidence discussed above. Generally speaking, the more evidence you have, the better. With that said, terminated employees need to be very careful about accessing their employers’ records, and, as a result, we strongly recommend that you speak with a Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer before you do anything that could lead to problems.
3. Constructive Discharge
The third common type of wrongful termination case involves what is known as a constructive discharge. A constructive discharge occurs when an employer creates or fosters working conditions that are so intolerable that an employee has no realistic option but to resign. Employers will often try to get unwanted employees to quit, assuming that this protects them against liability for wrongful termination. But, this is not the case, and an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney may be able to use various forms of evidence to establish your right to compensation.
Damages in a Wrongful Termination Employment Law Case
If you have been the victim of wrongful termination, you may be eligible to recover the following:
- Lost Wages: Lost wages are income you would have earned had you not been wrongfully terminated. If you obtain different employment after your termination, any wages earned at that job may be used to offset the lost wages you can recover. Lost wages also include loss of employee benefits, such as bonuses and contributions.
- Emotional Distress: Wrongful termination can cause you to suffer emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, and mental anguish. These types of emotional distress often manifest with physical symptoms such as vomiting, insomnia, and weight loss. California law does not mandate that the distress be permanent and seeks to allow victims to recover from past and future pain and suffering.
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are damages awarded to punish the wrongdoer for outrageous behavior as well as encourage others not to follow in their footsteps. Punitive damages are seldom awarded in wrongful termination cases as the burden of proof is extremely high.
Do You Have Questions? We Can Help You Get Answers
If you have been wrongfully terminated, you may feel completely overwhelmed. In fact, you may not even know what questions to ask. With years of experience in handling wrongful termination claims, our Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyers can provide you with the information you need to find a way forward.
How Much Is a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Worth in California?
Of course, the value of your case will vary according to several factors. Some estimate that wrongful termination claims in California will typically settle for anywhere between $5,000 and $100,000. That said, there are many wrongful termination verdicts in California that exceed $1 million.
Depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding your case, your wrongful termination claim may consist of the following components:
- Your future lost wages. You will be entitled to compensation for any wages that you would have been paid had you not been terminated. This may include any scheduled raises or retention bonuses. You may also be entitled to recover compensation for any performance bonuses, overtime, or commissions that you normally would have received.
- Your withheld wages. In some cases, employers will terminate an employee in order to avoid paying them wages that they are entitled to such as significant bonuses or commissions. That said, you may also be able to recover any unpaid overtime or other wages that you have already earned but your employer has not paid.
- Your lost benefits. You may be entitled to compensation for any accrued personal leave that you did not use, retirement contributions, and or other benefits. The value of your health insurance benefits, for example, can be significant, especially if you incurred significant healthcare expenses after your termination.
- Job search expenses. Some employees may need to engage professional help to find another job. You may be able to recover any expenses you incurred in your job search such as résumé services, career counseling, and job placement fees.
- Emotional distress. For most people, losing their job can be extremely stressful. You may be entitled to compensation for the stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental or emotional distress caused by your wrongful termination.
- Punitive damages. The damages listed up to this point are considered “compensatory” damages – they are damages that are awarded to compensate the employee for their losses. Punitive damages are awarded in egregious wrongful termination cases where the court wants to punish the employer and discourage other employers from behaving similarly. An example would be when an employer routinely fires employees of a specific ethnic background.
- Damage to your reputation. In some cases, being wrongfully terminated can damage your professional reputation and thus harm your ability to obtain future employment.
- Attorney’s fees and costs. Attorney’s fees and costs are not available in all cases. However, you may be able to seek reimbursement of your attorney’s fees and court costs if your wrongful termination involved discrimination or harassment.
The value of your case will be the total of each of these components. An experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer can review your case and provide an estimate of what your case may be worth.
Employees who have been terminated should be aware that they may be expected to try to secure employment while their wrongful termination claim is pending. If you are able to get another job, any wages you receive will offset the value of your claim. However, if your new job pays less than your prior job, you are entitled to compensation for the difference in wages.
Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination in California?
Yes, you can file a lawsuit in California if you were wrongfully terminated. Before you file suit, however, you need to remember that you will need to prove your case. No matter how certain you are or how obvious it may seem that you were terminated, you will need to be able to introduce evidence supporting your claim that you were fired in violation of the law.
It is also important to sue the correct party. Employees typically pursue a claim against their employer as a corporate entity, even if only one person was responsible for their termination. That said, there are cases where you may want to sue the corporate entity as well as an individual or individuals involved in your termination.
You must correctly identify the corporate entity. Corporate entities sometimes have complex corporate structures, and their actual name may be different than the one you are familiar with. Then you must have them properly served with the lawsuit in order for your case to move forward. California state law has specific requirements when it comes to serving lawsuits on corporate entities. Using the wrong name or failing to properly serve your employer can result in your lawsuit being dismissed.
Lastly, you must file your lawsuit within two years of the date you were terminated. Failure to file your lawsuit within this timeframe will result in your lawsuit being dismissed, regardless of the strength of your case or how outrageously your employer behaved in terminating you.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, your best chance for a successful lawsuit is to engage a Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible. They can help you build the strongest case possible and make sure you receive all of the compensation you are entitled to.
How Do I Fight Wrongful Termination in California?
Hundreds, if not thousands, of employees are wrongfully terminated across California every year. Despite increasing awareness and stricter laws, employers continue to illegally terminate employees every day. And tragically, most employees do not understand their rights or what they can do about it.
What Does Your Contract Say?
One of the ways that employers get around the breach of contract exception is to offer employment contracts that expressly state that the employee can be terminated at any time and without cause. If you have been offered a job with a contract, you, therefore, need to watch out for language that states your employment is “at-will.” You may want to explore the possibility of negotiating a contract that allows you to be terminated only for cause.
If your contract is not “at-will,” you want to make sure the provisions governing termination are unambiguous and fair. Overly broad termination provisions can be tantamount to an at-will employment agreement. Your contract should be as specific as possible as to the reasons that would justify your termination. Another option is to have a provision that requires your employer to provide notification and a probationary period to allow you an opportunity to address their concerns prior to termination. An employment lawyer can review your contract and make sure it includes language that protects you from being wrongfully terminated.
Document Your Case
If you see your termination fast approaching or were just let go, the most important thing you can do is document your termination. To the extent possible, you want to gather the following information that could be evidence in support of a wrongful termination claim:
- The date and time that you were terminated
- Any written notice that you were given concerning your termination
- Copies of your pay stubs and any other records concerning your compensation and benefits
- Copies of any email, text messages, or other correspondence related to your termination
- Copies of your performance reviews
- A copy of your employee handbook
- A copy of your employment contract and any other documents concerning your job such as a description of your job duties
- A list of other employees who may have information that would support your case
You also should keep detailed notes surrounding your termination, including the following:
- Notes concerning whatever was verbally communicated to you concerning your termination or at any other pertinent times
- Notes concerning any incidents or events that you believe were related to your termination
- Notes concerning any statements made by your co-workers concerning your termination
Gathering all of this information can seem overwhelming, especially when you have been fired. A Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney can help you gather the information you need so that you can focus on getting back on your feet.
Talk to a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer
If you have been illegally fired, the best thing you can do to fight your wrongful termination is to talk with an employment attorney who has experience in handling wrongful termination cases. As discussed above, they can help you gather the evidence you need to build the strongest possible case. They can also evaluate your case, explain your options, and guide you through the process of holding your employer accountable. In short, your lawyer can help you find the way forward to better opportunities and put this experience behind you.
Be An Ally
Employees who have witnessed a wrongful termination or believe that they are witnessing what may become a wrongful termination should consider ways they can support their co-workers. If you have found yourself in this position, here are some steps you can take:
- File a complaint with HR. If you have witnessed discriminatory behavior or harassment, you do not need to be the target of such behavior in order to file a complaint. If the person who is targeted has been or is later wrongfully terminated, your complaint can serve as powerful evidence in support of their wrongful termination claim.
- Reach out. If one of your co-workers was wrongfully terminated, reach out to them and offer to provide any information that you have that may prove helpful if they decide to pursue a wrongful termination claim. In addition, you can provide whatever moral support or other assistance they may need.
- Work with their lawyer. If you are contacted by their lawyer, they may want to interview you concerning what you know about their case. We understand how intimidating this can be, but you may have information that is vital to their case. Your cooperation could be critical if they need you to testify. Helping them prove their wrongful termination claim helps secure fair employment for all workers.
Many workers are afraid that they will lose their job if they speak up. Unfortunately, this fear is valid and could result in having to pursue your own wrongful termination claim. If you are wondering what you can do to help a co-worker while protecting yourself, a Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer can provide you with valuable guidance.
How Long Does a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Take in California?
There are several different factors that will affect how long it will take to resolve your wrongful termination lawsuit. These factors can include the following:
- How willing your employer is to face the expenses of litigation and the potential harm to their reputation
- How strong the evidence is supporting your case
- How egregious your employer’s actions were in terminating you
- Whether your case involves any unique legal issues
- The facts and circumstances surrounding your termination
It is also necessary to understand the ways in which your lawsuit can get resolved. There are three main options:
- Your case is settled out of court.
- Your case goes to trial and the jury rules in your favor.
- You appeal the verdict and win on appeal.
Many cases can be settled without even filing a lawsuit. This may require some willingness to compromise on your part. Your lawyer can provide guidance on what would be a fair settlement and when you should go to court.
If your case cannot be settled quickly, then your best option is to file a lawsuit. A wrongful termination lawsuit will typically go to trial anywhere from 6 to 10 months after filing with the court. That said, it is not uncommon for wrongful termination cases to take longer than one year to get to trial if the parties file numerous motions in an attempt to clarify the case. Cases that are unusually complex or adversarial may take several years to reach a conclusion.
While your lawsuit is pending, the case can still be settled in order to avoid a trial. In fact, cases are sometimes settled during the trial. If your case doesn’t settle, then you will go to trial. At that point, a jury will decide whether or not you were wrongfully terminated. If they rule in your favor, all that is left to do is collect the compensation that is awarded to you. If you lose at trial and choose to appeal your case, it could take significantly longer.
At-Will Employment Is Not As Broad As Your Employer Thinks
While at-will employment is intended to make it easier for employers to terminate employees, it is not an absolute shield against potential liability for wrongful termination. Both California and federal law recognizes that an employer’s freedom with regard to hiring and firing must be balanced against an employee’s right to fair and equitable employment. To this end, there are several well-recognized exceptions to at-will employment.
These exceptions fall into the broad categories described above, but more specifically, employees can pursue wrongful termination claims in the following situations:
- You were terminated for discriminatory reasons. Federal and state laws prohibit firing employees on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics. You may have a wrongful termination claim even if your employer offers a non-discriminatory reason for your termination, especially if discrimination was a motivating factor. Employees who are terminated for reporting discrimination or harassment may also have a claim for wrongful termination.
- You were terminated as a result of requesting a reasonable accommodation. Disabled employees are entitled to a reasonable accommodation in order to perform their jobs. Once requested, the employer is required to engage in an interactive dialog with the employee to determine how their disability can be accommodated. Unfortunately, some employers choose to terminate the employee rather than make an accommodation. Disabled employees who are denied an accommodation but not actually terminated may have a wrongful termination claim based on constructive discharge.
- You were terminated as a result of requesting or using FMLA or CFRA leave. Employees are entitled to medical or family leave under both federal law (FMLA) and California state law (CFRA). These statutes are expressly intended to protect employees’ jobs who need to take leave to care for themselves or a loved one. It is therefore illegal to terminate an eligible employee for reasons related to either requesting or using leave.
- You were terminated in retaliation for reporting illegal working conditions or wage practices. Employees cannot be terminated for exercising their employment rights. This means that they can pursue a claim for wrongful termination if they were fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim, filing a wage claim, or reporting an OSHA violation.
- You were terminated in breach of your written employment contract or an implied contract. Under California law, a written or verbal contract overrides an employer’s at-will termination abilities. Your employment contract may contain provisions that specify precisely when and how you may be terminated. Terminating an employee in violation of these provisions can give rise to a wrongful termination claim. Employees who do not have a written contract may still have a breach of contract claim if they were terminated in violation of representations made by their employer such as the length of time that they were to be employed or the conditions upon which they would be terminated.
- You were terminated for exercising your constitutional rights. Public policy encourages employees to pursue wrongful termination claims when they are fired for engaging in constitutionally-protected activities. This can include whistleblowing, refusing to participate in illegal activities, or engaging in political actions.
Most, if not all, employers recognize that there are limits to at-will employment. It is rare for an employer to claim that terminating an employee under the same or similar circumstances was permissible under at-will employment. Rather than admit any wrongdoing, they will likely offer some pretextual reason for your termination.
Employees who have been unfairly fired need a Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney to overcome whatever baseless pretext is offered by their employer. They can help you prove your case so that you can get the compensation you deserve and move on to better opportunities.
What To Expect When You Contact a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Law Firm
When you contact a lawyer in Los Angeles about your wrongful termination claim, there are several steps your lawyer will take to assess your legal rights—and assert your legal rights if warranted. Here is an overview of the major steps in the process:
- Determining if You Are (or Were) an “At Will” Employee – One of the first steps your lawyer will take is to determine if you are (or were) an “at-will” employee. This is the first step toward determining what options you have available.
- Gathering As Much Information as Possible – When you meet with your lawyer, your lawyer will gather as much information from you as possible. You should be prepared to discuss your termination openly, and you should bring any documents or files that you believe may be relevant to your claim.
- Assessing Your Rights Under California and Federal Law – Based on the evidence you provide, your lawyer will assess your rights under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and federal law. Several laws protect employees against wrongful termination, and your lawyer will need to determine which laws apply to your individual situation.
- Assessing the Value of Your Wrongful Termination Claim – Along with assessing how to file your wrongful termination claim, your lawyer will also assess how much he or she can seek on your behalf. Wrongful termination often entitles former employees to substantial damages, but the amount you can recover will depend on your individual circumstances.
- Deciding Where to File Your Wrongful Termination Claim – Based on the laws that apply, your lawyer will decide whether to file your claim with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Filing with the DFEH or EEOC is required before filing a lawsuit in court in most cases.
- Obtaining Evidence from Your Employer – Once your lawyer initiates your claim, your lawyer will be able to seek additional evidence from your employer. This is often a key step in the process, and it will spur settlement negotiations in many cases.
- Pursuing a Wrongful Termination Settlement – If you have a wrongful termination claim, pursuing a settlement may be the best option for resolving your claim as quickly as possible. If settling makes sense, your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf, advise you regarding any settlement opportunities, and explain exactly how much you will take home if you accept an offer.
- Going to a Hearing (or Trial) if Necessary – Finally, if necessary, your lawyer will take your wrongful termination claim to a hearing (or trial). This is a lengthy process, and if your dispute gets to this stage, you will need an experienced lawyer who is prepared to fight for the financial compensation you deserve.
Regardless of the facts of your case, you only have a limited amount of time to assert your legal rights. This is true whether you have a claim under California or federal law. As a result, if you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, we strongly encourage you to contact us right away.
Contact An Experienced Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer To Learn More
Being wrongfully terminated causes undue mental and financial stress. Contact our firm today by filling out our intake form. Our Los Angeles wrongful termination attorneys look forward to providing you with the unparalleled representation you deserve.