Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination in California?

If you were wrongfully terminated in California, you can file a lawsuit after the appropriate steps are taken. 

Most employees in California are employed on an at-will basis. This is the default legal position unless an employee has a verbal or written employment contract that explicitly details the legitimate reasons for terminating employment by either the employer or the employee.

At-Will Employment in California

With at-will employment, employers can terminate an employee’s term of employment for almost any reason they can think of. Similarly, an employee can theoretically terminate their employment for any reason.

Typically, an at-will employment arrangement favors the employer more than the employee despite the fact that the arrangement is mutual.

There are many circumstances in which employees are sacked for reasons that are illegal under California’s labor laws. This is called wrongful termination.

Even in an at-will employment situation, there are several reasons why an employer could be accused of wrongful termination.

In many cases, if wrongful termination can be proven, it may be possible to sue an employer and recover past and future wages, emotional damages and sometimes punitive damages if the circumstances surrounding the termination are particularly egregious.

Wrongful Termination California Laws

There are a number of laws, both state and federal, that protect those that were wrongfully terminated in California. There are:

  • Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
  • Age and Discrimination Act (ADEA)
  • Equal Pay Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • California Family Rights Act
  • Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Family Act

Types of Wrongful Termination in California

There are several different categories of wrongful termination in California. The four main categories are:Wrongful Termination California

  • breach of an employment contract;
  • discrimination;
  • violation of public policy;
  • retaliation.

A breach of contract occurs when an employer terminates an employee’s employment for reasons that are in clear contradiction with the terms and conditions outlined in an employment contract.

As far as California labor law is concerned, an employment contract may be written or verbal, i.e. the conditions which permit termination may be implied by what was said at the time of recruitment.

Termination because of discrimination against the employee because of their age, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, disability or pregnancy is illegal in California under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

Examples of Wrongful Termination In California

There are a variety of ways you can experience wrongful termination in California. One example of wrongful termination is if an employee is fired because s/he has turned 60 and is replaced by another employee who is a lot younger.

Discrimination is illegal as long as it can be shown that it was the main reason for termination and not because they were incompetent or no longer able to do their job.

An employee cannot be let go or fired if the employee complains to their employer or a government agency about a violation of public policy. 

Termination as retaliation for an employee legitimately making use of their rights such as applying for workers’ compensation would be considered wrongful termination under California law.

Even if there are several reasons for terminating someone’s employment, it may still be considered wrongful termination if one of the reasons was illegal under California law and that reason was a significant factor in dismissal.

California Wrongful Termination

How to Sue for Wrongful Termination In California

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, you should first discuss this with your employer or your employer’s HR department. It would be useful to get in writing the exact reason(s) why your job was terminated.

If there is no resolution to this, you should consider filing a complaint. It would be difficult to do this on your own as the success will partly depend on an appraisal of California’s labor laws including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the evidence to prove that you were wrongfully terminated.

Filing A Complaint In California

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated because of discrimination, your complaint would first be directed towards the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). This is a federal body that oversees federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC will appoint an official to investigate your complaint.

You can also file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH is the state agency that investigates wrongful termination claims. The EEOC and DFEH have a work-share agreement, so if you file a claim with one, but the other is the appropriate party for your claim, they will file the claim on your behalf.

A California wrongful termination claim may involve communication with your employer and may also involve arranging a mediation meeting with you and your employer’s representative. If the EEOC or DFEH cannot achieve a satisfactory outcome, then you will be given permission to file a lawsuit against your employer. You will receive a Right to Sue letter, allowing you to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination in California.

You must have evidence to back up your complaint and provide justification for alleging that the termination was illegal.

Proving Your Wrongful Termination Claim in California

Whether you are filing your claim with the EEOC, DFEH or are filing a lawsuit, you will need to provide evidence to support your claim. Depending on what type of wrongful termination you have experienced, you may needed specific evidence. Here are some different examples on how to prove wrongful termination in California:

  • Termination letter
  • Your contract
  • Emails, notes, files, memos that support your claim
  • Witness statements 
  • Personnel file
  • Journal of harassment or discrimination
  • Copies of complaints if fired as a form of retaliation

Wrongful Termination California

The more evidence you can gather to prove that your termination was illegal, the better the chances your have of a successful claim. It can be difficult to prove wrongful termination, so you will need to compile a lot of supportive evidence.

Get Help Today

Wrongful termination is a difficult legal area as there are gray areas that make it sometimes difficult to establish whether termination was illegal or not.

It is best to contact an employment lawyer and discuss your case before filing a complaint.  Fill out a Free Case Evaluation form today.

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