Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer

When is termination a "wrongful termination" under California law?

"At-will" employment does not allow an employer to terminate an employee for an unlawful reason. The California Supreme Court held in 1992 that:

" While an at-will employee may be terminated for no reason, or for an arbitrary or irrational reason, there can be no right to terminate for an unlawful reason or a purpose that contravenes fundamental public policy ."

Gantt v. Sentry Ins. (1992) 1 Cal. 4th 1083.

Most workers do not have employment contracts in California. This makes employees subject to "at-will" employment. An employer does not need a reason, good or bad, to terminate an at-will employee at any time and without notice.

But at-will status does not give the employer the right to break the law. And, fortunately, there are state and federal law protecting many classes and categories of workers from discrimination, retaliation and harassment. A wrongful termination happens when an employee is terminated based on a protected class, category or characteristic - i.e. gender, disability, race, religion, or status as a whistleblower, etc. Where a termination violates a state or federal law or is contrary to an established public policy, the termination is wrongful and the employee can file a lawsuit.

One of the most important laws to protect California employees is the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Government Code § 12900 et seq. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - Unlawful Employment Practices, are two of the most important federal worker protection laws. The California Labor Code also provides a number of protected worker classes, including Labor Code section 1102.5 (Whistleblower Protection), Labor Code section 6310 (OSHA Complaint Retaliation), Labor Code section 1287.5 (Health and Safety Whistleblowers - Health Care Workers), and other anti-retaliation and whistleblower protection laws.

Wrongful Termination - Protected Classes

The following are some of the most common protected classes:

  • color, race and ethnicity
  • age
  • gender or sex
  • gender identity (i.e. transgender)
  • pregnancy or maternity leave
  • religion or religious practices
  • national origin
  • family medical leave
  • mental or physical disabilities
  • sexual harassment complaints or reports
  • sexual orientation
  • Requests for accommodation for disability
  • Retaliation for reporting or threatening to report illegal company acts
  • Refusing to break the law at work
  • Retaliation for reporting workplace health and safety concerns
  • Termination for filing a workers' compensation claim
  • Political affiliation or disagreement
  • Union organizing (limited)

Employer Pre-Texts or False Termination Excuses

While employers break the law and wrongfully terminate employees every day in this country, employers do not usually admit that an employee was fired for an illegal reason. Instead, companies often present a bogus excuse for termination that attorneys call a "pretext." Employers will sometimes go to great lengths over several months or more before terminating an employee to create a "papertrail." This false record against an employee is then used to support a pretextual and supposedly legitimate reason for the termination. We have seen systematic discrimination against persons with disabilities or older workers at companies like AT&T, Walmart, Bank of America, The Home Depot, Rite-Aid, Target, Wells Fargo Bank, and many others. A skilled employment attorney understands how to expose these false excuses often used by employers to cover up a wrongful termination .

Wrongful Termination - Whistleblowers

Workers are also protected from retaliation when they blow the whistle on illegal practices by their employers. (Labor Code § 1102.5). Employees who make internal complaints to their employer are protected, not only those who complain to government or law enforcement.

It is also unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee in retaliation for complaining about workplace health and safety. or OSHA violations (Labor Code § 6310).

Health care workers are protected from retaliation for exposing unsafe patient care and conditions. (Labor Code § 1287.5). Such complaints are protected when made internally, directly to the employer, or to a government agency, such as law enforcement or the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). Similarly, employers cannot retaliate against workers who complain about Labor Code violations (i.e. unpaid wages or overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, misclassification as independent contractors, etc.)

Damages Awardable to Wrongfully Terminated Employees

A wrongfully terminated employee may recover lost wages and benefits in the past and future, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs. Punitive damages are available when a corporate officer, director or managing agent participates in a termination with a conscious disregard of an employee's rights. Punitive damages can significantly increase the value of wrongful termination cases against large corporations.

An attorney that specializes in employment law can advise whether a termination was the result of unlawful discrimination or retaliation giving rise to a wrongful termination claim, or simply the result of a perhaps unfair, but not illegal, reason.

The Rutten Law Firm, APC is a premier California law firm practicing only employment law on behalf of employees. Based in Los Angeles, our lawyers handle cases throughout the state.  We handle all types of discrimination, harassment and retaliation cases for wrongfully terminated workers. We welcome challenging and difficult cases where a person has been seriously harmed, financially, emotionally and/or psychologically. If we are considering your case, one of our lawyers will provide you an evaluation without charge. We work on a contingency fee basis and advance all case related costs. There is no fee unless the employee prevails. Our success rate is over ninety eight percent and we are prepared to do whatever it takes within the law to win.

Contact The Rutten Law Firm, APC in Los Angeles

Employees that have been wrongfully termination should not delay in taking action. There are important statutes of limitation and other legal deadlines with which you must comply to proceed.

Contact us at The Rutten Law Firm, APC and learn about your legal rights under California employment law. Call us toll free at 818-308-5945, or locally at 818-308-6915.

Howard Rutten - Employee Rights SuperLawyer