After working 20 years at one of California’s largest utility companies, a former employee’s lawsuit claims his termination was the result of his expressing concerns over a work practice that could cause wildfires. If the suit proves the fired employee’s allegations are correct, the utility company’s actions reflect a wrongful termination based on retaliation. Prohibited by law, retaliation is one of several causes for wrongful termination.
As reported by ABC7 News, the former employee alerted management to the dangers presented by a device used by the utility company to re-energize power lines struck by falling tree branches or other objects. Similar to another field-use item called a recloser, but less costly to use, reliance upon the device in remote areas saves the company money.
The issue noted by the former employee is that when the device re-energizes a line, it can cause nearby dry vegetation to ignite and develop into a wildfire. He explained the effect by comparing it to “sending lightning strikes into a dry forest area.”
Retaliation is a majority factor in discrimination complaints
According to figures released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for 2018, retaliation accounted for the greatest number of claims made against employers nationwide. It represented the number one charge filed against employers in California and accounted for slightly more than half of the claims presented. Both federal and California laws prohibit a company from retaliating against an employee who engages in a protected activity such as bringing to light public safety issues.
Utility company disputes retaliation as the cause for termination
In response to the former employee’s allegations of retaliation, the utility company claims performance issues that included fraudulent timecard submissions and misuse of company time prompted the termination. It is not uncommon, however, for an employer to present excuses to “justify” what may otherwise reflect a wrongful termination. Oftentimes, an employer may demonstrate a paper trail to obscure the fact of retaliation as an underlying cause of termination.