The Los Angeles Retaliation Attorneys & Wrongful Termination Lawyers at Azadian Law Group, PC know that a wrongful termination can have significant impacts on an employee’s life. In addition to causing financial stress, wrongful terminations can also result in emotional distress and possibly even damage someone’s professional reputation and career. At the Azadian Law Group, PC, our Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyers are dedicated to standing up for employees’ rights and holding employers accountable for illegal dismissals. Focused on providing aggressive legal advocacy, our attorneys are ready to help you fight for the maximum possible recovery if you have been the target of wrongful termination.
California is an “at-will” employment state.1 This means that, when employees don’t have an employment contract detailing grounds for termination, they are presumed to be “at-will” employees.
At-will employees may be terminated for any (or no) reason, so long as it’s not illegal. Generally, illegal reasons for firing at-will employees involve terminations stemming from or related to:
“Wrongful termination cases typically arise when an employer retaliates against an employee for . . . reporting an alleged violation of a statute of public importance.” See Gould v. Maryland Sound Indus., Inc., 31 Cal. App. 4th 1137, 1147 (1995). Some common and more specific examples of wrongful termination include (but are not necessarily limited to) being fired or dismissed from a job as a result of:
Even where the employee is mistaken (meaning their complaint is not factually valid), they are still protected against retaliation as long as they reasonably believed their complaint was justified. See Nosal-Tabor v. Sharp Chula Vista Med. Ctr., 239 Cal. App. 4th 1224, 1242 (2015) (reversing summary judgment in favor of employer and finding that wrongful termination based on Labor Code section 1102.5(c) because a reasonable juror could find that the employee/nurse was retaliated against for refusing to lead a cardiac stress test, which the nurse/employee believed should be led by a doctor and was not within a nurses scope of practice); see also Barbosa v. IMPCO Technologies, Inc., 179 Cal. App. 4th 1116, 1123 (2009) (“The public policy behind § 6310 is not merely to aid the reporting of actual safety violations it is also to prevent retaliation against those who in good faith report working conditions they believe to be unsafe. As long as the employee makes the health or safety complaint in good faith, it does not matter for purposes of a wrongful termination action whether the complaint identifies an actual violation of other workplace safety statutes or regulations.”); Yanowitz v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., 36 Cal. 4th 1028, 1043 (2005) (“It is well established that a retaliation claim may be brought by an employee who has complained of or opposed conduct that the employee reasonably believes to be discriminatory, even when a court later determines the conduct was not actually prohibited by the FEHA. . . . A rule that permits an employer to retaliate against an employee with impunity whenever the employee’s reasonable belief turns out to be incorrect would significantly deter employees from opposing conduct they believe to be discriminatory.”)
Elaborating more on this issue, the following answers some common questions about wrongful terminations and employees’ rights in California.
Possibly, but not necessarily. Given that California is an at-will employment state, your employer can fire you all of the sudden, without providing any reason.
However, if you have never received a negative performance review and you are dismissed from your job out of the blue, it’s strongly advised you consult with a wrongful termination attorney, who can carefully review the details of your situation and inform you if you were, indeed, the target of a wrongful termination.
A constructive discharge (which may also be referred to as a constructive dismissal or a constructive termination) occurs when an employee is forced to quit his or her job due to hostile working conditions, including conditions that:
More specifically, a constructive termination occurs when the employer “knows about [intolerable working conditions] and fail to remedy the situation in order to force the employee to resign. . . .This standard, requiring employees to notify someone in authority about the intolerable working conditions, permits employers unaware of any wrongdoing to correct a potentially destructive situation and ‘discourages employer inaction.” Casenas v. Fujisawa United States, 58 Cal. App. 4th 101, 114 (1997).
For instance, a constructive discharge can occur when harassment and/or discriminatory practices at work make the working conditions so adverse that the employee has to resign. However, a constructive termination may be based on far more complicated facts. See Thompson v. Tracor Flight Systems, Inc., 86 Cal. App. 4th 1156, 1170-1171 (2001) (A supervisor’s continuous course of “yelling and screaming,” unfair and harsh criticism, uncorrected by management, may constitute objectively intolerable working conditions.); see also Colores v. Board of Trustees, 105 Cal. App. 4th 1293, 1309 (2003) (A supervisor’s attempts to get an employee fired, including repeated efforts to invent documentation against the employee, frequent reorganization of her duties and demands that she process unlawful orders, may constitute “intolerable” working conditions for a constructive termination).
When such constructive discharges occur, employees can have grounds to sue for wrongful termination.
It depends on the nature of your claim. In general, however, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)2 provides 300 days from the date of termination for workers to file a complaint. To receive more specific answers about time frames and filing deadlines for your case, contact the Azadian Law Group, PC today.
Again, it depends on the details of your situation. While an experienced wrongful termination lawyer can provide you with more specific answers about your potential case and circumstances, in general, it can be possible to establish that a wrongful termination has occurred based on evidence such as (but by no means limited to):
In August 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation and Related Issues. The guidance replaces EEOC’s 1998 Compliance Manual on retaliation and clarifies the agency’s perspective on what constitutes retaliation under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Protection Act (EPA), Title II of the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The effective date of new guidance was August 29, 2016. The last time retaliation guidance was provided by the EEOC was in 1998. In a statement related to releasing the new guidance, EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang: “Retaliation is asserted in nearly 45 percent of all charges we receive and is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination.”
The EEOC retaliation guidance is very important in the sense that the guidance is largely based on Supreme Court and the lower court rulings regarding employment-related retaliation. See EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, 783 F.3d 1057, 1067 (6th Cir. 2015) (“Great deference” is given to the EEOC’s interpretation by Courts.)
For purposes of the EEOC enforcement, the following Federal Laws prohibit retaliation:
Other Federal laws outside of the EEOC’s responsibilities also prohibit retaliation, including:
Also, California state employment laws provide numerous additional protected activities, including complaints about unsafe working conditions, refusal to participate in illegal activity, complaints about unsafe patient care, and complaints about defrauding the government (to name a few).
“Protected activity” refers to actions an employee takes that are protected against retaliation by his or her employer. These protected activities can be broken down into two broad categories: (1) participation by the employee; and (2) opposition by the employee.
“Participation” is the rare form of protected activity and generally consists of making a complaint with the EEOC, acting as a witness in a hearing related to discrimination or other illegal employment practice, or filing a lawsuit related to discrimination or other illegal employment practice. Employees who participate in such activities are protected even when their underlying complaint is not valid. See Wyatt v. City of Bos., 35 F.3d 13, 15 (1st Cir. 1994) (“there is nothing in [the participation clause’s] wording requiring that the charges be valid, nor even an implied requirement that they be reasonable.”); see also Ayala v. Summit Constructors, Inc., 788 F. Supp. 2d 703, 720-21 (M.D. Tenn. 2011) (holding that anti-retaliation protection for participation is “‘not lost if the employee is wrong on the merits of the charge, nor is protection lost if the contents of the charge are malicious and defamatory as well as wrong.”)
“Opposition” is the much more common form of protected activity in the employment context, including internal complaints to managers or human resources about a discriminatory or illegal employment practice. The opposition clause of Title VII has an “expansive definition.” EEOC v. New Breed Logistics, 783 F.3d 1057, 1067 (6th Cir. 2015). As the Supreme Court stated, “when an employee communicates to her employer a belief that the employer has engaged in . . . a form of employment discrimination, that communication virtually always constitutes the employee’s opposition to the activity.” Crawford v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 555 U.S. 271, 276 (2009).
The EEOC’s guidance provides: “The communication itself may be informal and need not include the words ‘harassment,’ ‘discrimination,’ or any other legal terminology, as long as circumstances show that the individual is conveying opposition or resistance to a perceived potential equal employment opportunity violation.”
For example, in Okoli v. City of Balt., 648 F.3d 216, 224 (4th Cir. 2011), the Court ruled that it was sufficient to constitute “opposition” that the employee complained about “harassment” and described some facts about the sexual behavior in the workplace that was unwelcome, and that she did not need to use the term “sexual harassment” or other specific terminology.
In contrast, just complaining about unfair treatment is generally not protected. In Barber v. CSX Distrib. Servs., 68 F.3d 694, 701-02 (3d Cir. 1995), the Court ruled that an employee’s letter to human resources complaining that the job he sought went to a less qualified individual did not constitute opposition to age discrimination, because the letter did not explicitly or implicitly allege age was the reason for the alleged unfairness.
While opposition is usually in the form of a complaint made by the employee, this is not always the case. The EEOC’s guidance provides the examples of
No. The United States Supreme Court in Thompson v. N. Am. Stainless, LP, 562 U.S. 170 (2011) ruled that the male fiance of a female employee who filed a complaint a of sex discrimination against the employer with the EEOC was protected under the law and stated a claim for violations of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision. It did not matter that the male fiance did not make a complaint himself or engage in a protected activity. The Court reasoned that the male fiance was “not an accidental victim of the retaliation — collateral damage, so to speak, of the employer’s unlawful act. To the contrary, injuring him was the employer’s intended means of harming” is fiance who had made a complaint of sexual harassment against the employer.
The most severe form of retaliation is terminating/firing the employee. However, other forms of negative treatment (called adverse actions) are also prohibited, such as suspensions, demotions, and reductions in pay.
The Supreme Court in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) ruled that a “materially adverse action” subject to challenge under the anti-retaliation provisions encompasses a broader range of actions than an “adverse action” subject to challenge under the non-discrimination provisions. In light of the purpose of anti-retaliation protection, it expansively covers any employer action that “might well deter a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination.” An action need not be materially adverse standing alone, as long as the employer’s retaliatory conduct, considered as a whole, would deter protected activity.
Examples of negative treatment that is sufficient to prove a “materially adverse action”:
Please keep in mind that the following is a small subset of the employment laws that protect employees from retaliation in the workplace. The best way to see if your rights have been violated is to contact our Los Angeles Employment Lawyers for a free consultation regarding your termination.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated or retaliated against at work, we want to hear from you. Azadian Law Group, PC serves the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas and offers free consultations. To speak to one of our knowledgeable wrongful termination attorneys today, please call 626-449-4944 or 213-229-9031 or 949-662-5405
As we never charge our clients a penny out-of-pocket, you can rest assured that when we accept a case, we are standing behind our client 100% and will fight aggressively for their rights.