In most instances, employers can terminate a working relationship at any time, including laying off employees due to reorganization, downsizing, bankruptcy, or for no reason at all. However, it is unlawful to be terminated because of your race, religion, gender, or national origin or for engaging in a protected activity.
- Opposes harassment, discrimination or an employer’s failure to grant a valid family or pregnancy leave.
- Files a harassment or discrimination claim.
- Requests an accommodation for a religious belief or observance, or because of a disability.
- Assists in or testifies in any (FEHA) investigation or proceeding.
What Does Wrongful Termination Look Like?
Below are three examples of wrongful termination/workplace retaliation that are in violation of the FEHA:
- Maggie is the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of her direct supervisor. Maggie then reports the sexual harassment to her Human Resources (HR) manager. The direct supervisor is immediately disciplined, but the direct supervisor retaliates by filing a horrible performance review which is later used to justify Maggie’s termination.
- Leora is a nurse and an Orthodox Jew. After accepting a new job offer, she requests an accommodation to avoid assignments on Saturdays because her religion dictates that she must observe the Sabbath on Saturdays. Within days of being hired, Leora is informed by email that things are “not working out” and she is immediately terminated.
- Mary is the only witness to a group of coworkers who were guilty of committing national origin harassment against another computer programmer from Iran. The aggrieved computer programmer files a harassment lawsuit against the employer, and Mary, as the only witness, decides to participate as a witness in the ensuing investigation. Mid-way through the investigation, Mary is “laid off” for no real reason.
Wrongful Termination And the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
In the state of California, the primary law responsible for prohibiting retaliation and harassment in the workplace is the Fair Employment and Housing Act. FEHA specifically prohibits an employer from retaliating against any employee — this includes wrongful termination — simply for exercising his or her rights.
Retaliation of course includes definitive actions such as wrongful termination, but it also includes less extreme actions including pay cuts, mistreatment, demotions, and reassignments to less desirable or less lucrative assignments.
According to FEHA, retaliation has four components:
- The employee was involved in a protected activity.
- The employer terminated, demoted, constructively terminated and/or took some form of adverse employment action against an employee.
- An employee’s participation in a protected activity was the substantial motivating reason for any adverse employment action taken, and
- An adverse employment action was in fact the substantial factor in causing the employee harm.
What Is A Protected Activity?
You typically do not have a claim against an employer for wrongful termination or retaliation unless you were engaged in a protected activity recognized by the FEHA. For the most part, protected activities include being wrongfully terminated or retaliated against for participating in any FEHA proceedings.
Let’s consider an example. Mary is the only witness to a group of coworkers who were guilty of committing national origin harassment against another computer programmer from Iran. The aggrieved computer programmer then files a harassment lawsuit against the employer, and Mary, as the only witness, decides to participate as a witness in the ensuing investigation. Mid-way through the investigation, Mary is “laid off” for no real reason. Mary may have a case for wrongful termination in this example.
Wrongful Termination And Reasonable Accommodation
According to FEHA retaliation law, it is unlawful for an employer to fire or retaliate against an employee for:
- Requesting reasonable accommodations for a disability.
- Requesting reasonable accommodations for a religious belief or observance.
Whether or not an employer actually decides to accommodate a request or not, wrongful termination or any retaliatory action taken in response to a request for a reasonable accommodation is unlawful.
Adverse Actions And Retaliation
You typically will not have a case against your employer for retaliation unless they took some form of adverse action against you. Adverse actions of course can be severe enough to include termination, but that is not necessarily the case. Even demotions or pay cuts may count as adverse actions.
An adverse action can be also be any pattern of behavior which adversely and materially affects the terms, conditions and privileges of employment. A pattern of behavior, for example, may consist of a series of behaviors that when considered individually do not add up to retaliation, but which when taken as a whole do add up to illegal retaliation.
Proving The Connection Between Retaliation And A Protected Activity
A crucial requirement for bringing a wrongful termination suit is showing that a causal connection existed between the protected activity an employee was involved in and the adverse employment taken against that employee. An employee needs to prove that any protected activities he or she was involved in were the substantial motivating reason for the adverse actions taken against them.
Circumstantial evidence can be used to show this causal connection. For example, the proximity between any protected activities an employee was involved in and the adverse employment actions taken against him or her would satisfy this requirement.
What Can West Coast Employment Lawyers Do For You?
If you have made up your mind to take action, it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The wrongful termination lawyers at West Coast Employment Lawyers have extensive experience handling wrongful termination cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.
We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a wrongful termination attorney in California, contact our office at 213-927-3700.
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