Wrongful Termination & Unlawful Discharge

Wrongful termination from one's job describes an unlawful or illegal termination of employment, or a termination which breaches a contract. A claim for wrongful termination is usually based on a federal or state regulation, a contract (express or implied), or a constitutional right. This includes unfair job discharge or termination, discharge without proper cause, unjustified reason, illegal firing or termination, illegal dismissal or discharge, termination that violates public policy or law, firing for making protected complaints, termination for complaining to employer about protected matters, termination for complaining to employer or government about unlawful conduct, and termination for refusing to engage in unlawful conduct.

All these terms describe terminations of employment that may lead to civil claims and lawsuits against the employer. Not every "unjust" or "unfair" termination will result in a lawsuit for wrongful termination, though. Although an unfair termination may lead to unemployment claim, only a limited type of unfair job terminations give rise to a civil claim for wrongful discharge or firing from work.

In general, for a wrongful employment termination claim, the employee's termination must be in breach of an agreement or contract, or for an unlawful reason. If it is not, then it will probably not support a wrongful discharge claim. In California, employees are generally "at-will", and without a written or verbal contract stating otherwise, a lawsuit may not be brought against the employer for wrongful termination unless he or she is legally restricted from terminating the employee. All California employees are generally at-will, barring specific exceptions, so most job termination claims must be based on unlawful employer conduct that violates a statue or other public policy.

Wrongful or unlawful termination is a highly litigated field of law in California. Recently, termination lawsuits by employees who have complained to their employer about illegal activity, either within their workplace or to government oversight agencies, or declined to participate in illegal activity, have led to significant whistle-blower lawsuits for retaliation and wrongful discharge. Whistle-blower claims can be filed, for example, under California common law, the California Labor Code, and federal employee protection laws, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Sarbanes-Oxley usually applies to companies who have securities listed with the SEC, or who file reports with the SEC. Employees can file claims for workplace retaliation if they engage in activity protected under Sarbanes-Oxley.

There are a number of other foundations for wrongful employment termination claims, including: 

(1) Breach of contract

(2) Discrimination 

(3) Taking a disability work leave

(4) Taking protected pregnancy or medical work leaves 

(5) Retaliation for opposing work-place discrimination 

(6) Retaliation for complaining about owed or unpaid wages, such as overtime 

(7) Violation of public policy 

(8) Engaging in legally protected activities, such military service, jury duty, testifying in court, etc.  

(9) Retaliation for reporting an employer's illegal activities or requests that an employee do something unlawful

If you are in the Los Angeles area and have an unemployment department ruling finding that your discharge or firing from work was unlawful or discriminatory, we can review the circumstances of your job termination to determine if you have a claim for wrongful termination. Please contact us for a complimentary consultation at (323) 933-1352. We have over 25 years of experience in employment law- we fight for employee's rights and will help you to determine whether you may have a wrongful termination case.

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