Do I Have a Lawsuit for Unlawful Termination?
An employee has a lawsuit for an unlawful termination if he or she can prove that the reason for the termination was unlawful. In other words, an employee can hold his or her former employer legally liable for wrongful termination if the termination was made in violation of a federal, state or local law. Whether a termination of employment is unlawful in violation of federal, state or local law requires an extensive review and analysis of all the specific facts and circumstances by a competent employment lawyer who can determine the viability of one or more potential causes of action.
One of the first inquiries taken by an employment lawyer in determining whether a termination is unlawful is to gain an understanding of the employment relationship between the employer and the employee. Unless the employee has an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement, chances are he or she will be considered an “at-will” employee. An “at-will” employee means he or she can be terminated by the employer for any reason or no reason at all, so long as the reason is not in violation of federal, state or local law. The ultimate determination of whether the reason for termination is unlawful depends on many different factors, including the relevant factual background of the termination and a complete and thorough analysis of an experienced employment lawyer of relevant federal, state and local employment laws.
The most common “unlawful” reasons for terminating the employment of an employee involve discrimination, retaliation or harassment. It is unlawful for an employer to deprive an employee of a privilege, term or condition of employment because of a protected trait. Protected traits include sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, pregnancy and others. This means that an employer cannot terminate an employee because they are too old, no longer want to employ women in the #metoo era or do not want to provide a disabled employee a reasonable accommodation.
Retaliatory discharge is another claim of unlawful termination. There are many federal and state laws that provide whistleblowers with job protection against retaliation for engaging in protected activity at the workplace. But not all retaliation is unlawful. For retaliation to be considered unlawful, the employee must prove that he or she was terminated because they engaged in protected activity. Engaging in protected activity can include such things as making a reasonable and good faith complaint of discrimination, disclosing an unlawful business activity of the employer or participating in a sexual harassment investigation. Whether an employee has engaged in protected activity is often a complicated and fact-specific inquiry that requires the advice and counsel of a competent employment lawyer.
Another common claim of unlawful termination is when an employee must leave their employment because of a hostile work environment. Harassment is a form of employment discrimination when it is unwelcomed and based upon a protected trait such as sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or national origin. A hostile work environment is created when the harassing conduct: (1) occurs because of an employee’s protected trait (2) becomes a condition of employment; and (3) is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person of the same protected class would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive.
There are many ways in which an employee can maintain a claim of unlawful termination of employment. If you believe you may have a claim for unlawful termination, it is imperative that you immediately seek advice and counsel from an experienced employment lawyer who can assess the facts of your employment termination and determine the viability of all legal claims.