Wrongful Termination

In California, if you are terminated for an unlawful reason, you may be entitled to recover damages. The lawyers at Gaines & Gaines fight hard for those who have been fired because of:

  • Race, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or some other protected classification
  • Opposition to some unlawful activity
  • Demanding overtime, rest breaks, or lunch breaks
  • Requesting an accommodation
  • Taking pregnancy leave
  • Taking family and/or medical leave
  • Refusal to enter an unsafe workplace
  • Political affiliation or taking time to vote
  • Marital or family status
  • Refusing to sign an unlawful non-compete clause
  • Serving jury duty

California Wrongful Termination Law

In California, most employment relationships are “at will.” At will employment means that the employer and/or the employee may terminate the employment relationship for any reason, with or without cause. The exception, as stated above, is when there is some unlawful motivation or retaliatory reason for the termination. Basically, employers can be jerks without being sued — it is only when the conduct violates the law, or a contract between the employer and the employee that there is liability.

If there is an employment contract that has a specified term (number of years, etc) or certain conditions that are to be met, and that contract is breached, i.e. if the person is fired before the specified term, or the conditions are not met, this too may give rise to a claim of wrongful termination.

Another form of wrongful termination is called a “constructive wrongful termination.” This is when the employee is not fired but quits because the conditions are so horrible and/or they have been effectively forced out or left no option. The law states that if conditions or treatment are so severe that a reasonable person could not consider continuing to work in the environment any further, then a person may quit and seek damages for their lost wages.

However, case law recognizes that employees can’t merely quit and sue after a simple incident of harassment or because some condition is less than perfect. Employees are expected to use any available reporting mechanism to attempt to resolve their employment issues before quitting. Failure to try and remedy the situation before quitting may prevent an employee from going forward with their lawsuit. If an employee has complained and/or requested relief, and nothing changes, or it gets worse, an employee may quit and seek compensation for their lost wages. All complaints and efforts to get relief from the conduct should be well documented.

An individual who has suffered unlawful conduct, in California, in violation of their rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (such as discrimination and or harassment based on membership in a protected classification) must file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), generally within one year of the conduct (there are limited exceptions in some cases) or they may lose their right to pursue legal action for this conduct.


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