Let's take a hypothetical example of a case to understand when you might have a case against your employer.
Example: I was laid off from my job one month after I got promoted and after being with the company for 10 years. One year before my termination, there was an investigation with a manager because I was not being treated fairly, I was also pregnant at the time and due to stress, I went on leave for 3 weeks.
Would an employee in the scenario described above have a case? Most likely, but the strength of the case will be determined by several additional questions. For example, was the lay-off a true reduction in force, or a pretext for discrimination? Employers often employ tactics like changing a title, moving around a few duties, transferring someone to a new department or hiring someone with a different tile to cover up a discrimination and/or retaliation case.
Relevant to the case above will be whether the lay-off is a cover for retaliation because of the previous pregnancy leave or leave because of stress. Did you have time off under the protections of the FMLA / CFRA (12 weeks off with guaranteed return to the same position)? Did your employer know or have reason to know that you were on leave because of stress? Did your employer consider your complaint about the manager's mistreatment? Did you request accommodations because of the stress at work?
The additional stated facts present a classic discrimination scenario proved by circumstantial evidence: (1) a promotion - indicating good performance; (2) a "lay-off" because poor performance cannot be documented; (3) you were the only laid off employee and (4) you were likely replaced even if the person has a new title and slightly different duties. If you find yourself in a similar or even the same situation, we urge you to seek further legal counsel, and to be aware of the 1-year deadline to file a discrimination claim with the CA Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
As always, an employee who believes he or she has been wrongfully terminated should consult with a lawyer who specializes in employment law.