Losing a job is never easy, but when you lose your job because your employer did not respect your rights or as a result of retaliation for speaking out regarding discrimination, harassment, safety issues, lack of pay, or anything else, the result can be devastating. You have the right not only not to be discriminated against but also the right to speak up for yourself and others. If you were wrongfully terminated, our employment law firm is prepared to work to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Jeremy Pasternak is an experienced lawyer who represents clients throughout California.
State and federal laws offer you a broad spectrum of rights, including:
- The right to be paid for hours that you worked and the wages you have earned: If you were fired for complaining that you did not receive overtime pay or were not paid for all of the hours that you worked, or were not paid commissions or bonuses you earned, you might have a claim for wrongful termination.
- The right to complain about safety: If you do not feel safe at work, you have the right to refuse to go to work. You also have the right to complain about safety issues. If you are fired for doing so, you may have a claim for wrongful termination.
- The right to speak out against discrimination: Whether you complained that you were discriminated against or spoke out against discrimination you witnessed in the workplace, your right to make a complaint is protected by law.
- The right to be free from harassment in the workplace: The law protects your right to complain about workplace harassment. If your employer retaliates by firing you, you could take legal action.
- The right to ask for a reasonable accommodation for your disability: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California State law grant you the legal right to ask for a reasonable accommodation of your disability without fear of retaliation.
Even if you are in the process of being terminated or suspect that you are about to be terminated, do not hesitate to contact a wrongful termination attorney in San Francisco to discuss your rights and legal options.
California is an at-will employment state, meaning your employer can terminate you for any reason or no reason at all. This does not, however, give your employer the right to fire you for an illegal reason. If they do, you should speak with an attorney with experience handling wrongful termination claims. A lawyer who understands employees’ rights in California could provide valuable legal advice and help you hold your former employer accountable. Some examples of unlawful termination include:
- Discrimination - California law prohibits your employer from terminating you based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and other protected characteristics.
- Retaliation - Your employer cannot fire you in retaliation for taking part in certain protected activities. These include filing a complaint about discrimination or harassment, reporting illegal activity to a government agency, requesting FMLA leave, taking leave under the California Family Rights Act, or participating in a workplace investigation.
- Breach of employment contract - Your employer cannot violate the terms of an employment contract, particularly one that specifies when and how they can let you go. If your employer fires you before the end of the contract or fails to provide notice as required by your agreement, you could have a wrongful termination case.
- Refusal to participate in illegal activity - You cannot be fired for refusing to participate in unlawful activity, such as committing fraud, embezzling, or violating environmental or safety laws.
- Whistleblowing - If you report illegal activity, such as violations of environmental or safety laws, securities laws, or healthcare regulations, you are covered by The California Whistleblower Protection Act. You are also protected if you report violations of federal laws or regulations under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which covers wage and hour, discrimination, workplace safety violations, and others.
It’s crucial to note that even though you might think your termination was unfair, it doesn’t always mean it was unlawful. Your employer has the right to fire you for any reason that is not discriminatory, retaliatory, or violating public policy. For example, if your employer fires you for poor performance, you might think it is unfair, but it might not be unlawful. Or, if your employer terminates you due to downsizing or restructuring, you might not think it’s fair, but it would likely be considered a lawful reason for dismissal.
Determining whether your termination was due to discrimination can be challenging. Proving your case will usually require a thorough investigation by an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer. However, some signs that might indicate that discrimination played a role include the following:
- Different treatment - If your employer treated you differently than other employees (who are not in the same protected class), discrimination might’ve been a factor. For example, if they were more lenient on others for similar performance issues or did not terminate them for similar actions but fired you, the reason might be discrimination.
- Negative comments - If your employer subjected you to negative comments or harassment related to race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, or disability, your termination could potentially be tied to discrimination.
- Lack of documentation - If your employer doesn’t have adequate documentation, can’t give a valid reason, or if the reason they gave you for your termination keeps changing, you might be the victim of discrimination.
- Timing - If you were terminated shortly after engaging in protected activity like reporting discrimination, sexual harassment, or requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability or another life event, your termination might’ve been retaliatory.
Motive matters. The reason behind your employer’s decision to fire you often determines what your rights are and whether you have a case. San Francisco wrongful termination lawyer, Jeremy Pasternak will help you determine whether your employer’s motive for firing you violated your rights.
Constructive dismissal and retaliatory firing are considered wrongful termination in California but differ significantly.
Constructive dismissal (also known as constructive discharge) is when your employer effectively forces you to resign by making conditions so intolerable that you feel you have no choice but to quit. To prove your claim, you must be able to show that another reasonable person in your situation would also feel forced to resign. You’ll also have to show that your employer intended for you to quit or knew it would happen.
Retaliatory firing occurs if your employer terminates you for engaging in protected activity. Under California law, your employer, or any agent acting on their behalf, is prohibited from:
- Putting rules or policies in place to prevent you from disclosing information to the government, law enforcement, or another employee.
- Preventing you from testifying or giving information to a public body investigating or conducting a hearing into unlawful activity.
- Acting against you for disclosing such information or firing you out of fear that you might disclose information.
- Taking action against you if you refuse to engage in illegal activity. If this happens, the court will determine whether the activity was unlawful.
An experienced employment attorney could help you demonstrate the following to prove your retaliation claim:
- That Labor Code Section 1102.5 protected your activity
- That your employer took adverse action against you
- That there was an identifiable, causal link between the activity you engaged in and your employer’s action
If you have a valid claim, your employer must provide a lawful explanation for their actions. You must prove the action was intentional and retaliatory if they offer a legitimate reason.
Both constructive dismissal and retaliatory firing are illegal under California law. Constructive dismissal is recognized under California common law (CACI No. 2510), while various state and federal laws prohibit retaliatory firing, including the California Labor Code Section 1102.5, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
If you believe or suspect your employer terminated you unlawfully, you should contact an experienced San Francisco employment lawyer immediately to protect your rights. Your attorney could help review your case and will look at all of the relevant factors, including:
- Protected characteristics - Your lawyer will assess whether you are a member of a protected class under state or federal law. You might have a case if your employer terminated you because of your membership in that protected class.
- Protected activity or protected leave - If you were terminated because you engaged in a protected activity or had a serious health or family issue and requested protected leave, your lawyer might decide you have a case.
- Evidence - Your attorney will look for vital evidence, including documentation of discriminatory statements or actions, performance evaluations, and witness statements from other employees or entities.
- Timing - The timing of the adverse employment action could be a significant factor in determining whether you have a case. If your employer fired you soon after you engaged in a protected activity or after you reported discrimination or harassment, retaliation might have been a factor.
- Contract violations - Your lawyer will review your contract to see if your employer violated any terms.
If you succeed in your wrongful termination claim, you could recover compensation in the form of economic and non-economic damages. This compensation could reimburse you for both past and future losses. In general, your employer might owe you money for:
- Lost wages - The money you might have earned if your employer hadn’t terminated you for unlawful reasons. This includes payment for the time between the resolution of your case and when you can finally return to work.
- Lost benefits - You could recoup these costs if you lost bonus pay, 401k contributions, medical insurance coverage, and other employment benefits due to the wrongful termination.
- Employment search costs - New expenses can rack up quickly if you’re forced to search for a new job. You could recoup these out-of-pocket expenses, including recruiter costs, the costs of new skills training and classes, and more.
- Therapy - If you seek emotional counseling due to your work-related experience, your employer could be made to pay for these costs.
- Punitive damages - In rare instances, a judge or jury might award you punitive damages to punish your employer for particularly egregious violations of the law. These damages are usually awarded to send a message to the employer and others that the state will not tolerate this type of behavior and actions.
If you are meeting with a wrongful termination lawyer for a consultation, bring the following items to help them better understand your situation and evaluate your case:
- All relevant employment documents - Be sure to bring your employment contract (if there is one), your offer letter, performance reviews, disciplinary records, and any other documents related to your employment.
- Evidence of discrimination or retaliation - Bring any evidence that supports your wrongful termination or retaliation claim, including emails, text messages, or recordings.
- Termination letter - If your employer issued a termination letter or any other documentation, bring it to the consultation.
- Pay stubs or other financial documents - Bring copies of your pay stubs, tax returns, and other relevant financial documents. Your lawyer could use this documentation to calculate the damages your employer owes you.
- Witness contact information - If witnesses support your claim, give the lawyer their contact information.
- A list of questions - If you have questions, it is a good idea to prepare a list to bring to the consultation so you can better understand your rights.
Losing your job due to discrimination, retaliation, or another unlawful reason can be devastating. At The Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak, we understand this and are committed to helping you seek the answers and justice you deserve.
Don’t trust your case to just any attorney when your financial security is on the line. Turn to a lawyer with the right experience and resources to make a difference. We have 20 years of experience helping workers in the Bay area with these types of legal issues understand their rights and recover fair compensation. We provide free consultations, so you’ll never have to worry about paying out of pocket to discuss the specifics of your situation.
Let a knowledgeable San Francisco wrongful termination attorney help you today. Contact attorney Jeremy Pasternak at his office in downtown San Francisco (415) 693-0300 or send an email using our contact page.