San Francisco 
Wrongful Termination Attorney

Have You Been Wrongfully Fired From Your Job?

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 about legitimate concerns regarding your work environment, the experience can be gut-wrenching. These concerns can range from discriminatory practices to harassment, safety issues to lack of pay, among many others. You have the right to a safe work environment that is not only free from discrimination, but that also allows you to speak up for yourself and others who are not being treated fairly.  ee. If you suspect your termination was based on discrimination, retaliation, or a violation of public policy, know that you have the right to demand answers.

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 the state of California and can help you fight back against illegal acts on the part of your former employer. We have successfully helped countless clients  in your situation get the justice they deserve and our law firm is ready to put our skills, experience, and resources to work for you.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee in a way that violates an employment contract, public policy, or anti-discrimination laws. Although California is an at-will employment state, which means that employers can generally terminate employees for any reason, there are certain exceptions to this rule that protect workers from being fired without lawful cause.

For example, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on their race, gender, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics. Additionally, employers cannot terminate employees in retaliation for engaging in legally protected activities. This includes reporting workplace safety violations or participating in a discrimination or harassment investigation.

Employers who breach written or implied employment contracts, or fail to follow their own established disciplinary policies and procedures, may also be guilty of wrongful termination.

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in California?

As stated earlier, California is an at-will employment state. This essentially means that your employer can terminate you for any reason, or no reason at all.

With this being said, public policy limits employers' right to discharge at-will employees in certain situations. For example, while an employer can terminate an employee n for no reason or for an arbitrary or irrational reason, an employer cannot terminate an employee for an unlawful reason or a purpose that contravenes fundamental public policy. If you feel that you were fired for an illegal reason, or for a reason that runs contrary to public policy, 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.

The California Supreme Court has recognized four sources of public policy to support a claim for the wrongful termination of an at-will employee:

  • The employee refused to violate a statute
  • The employee performed a statutory obligation
  • The employee exercised a constitutional or statutory right or privilege
  • The employee reported a statutory violation for the public's benefit.

What Are Some Common Grounds for a Wrongful Termination Claim in California?

Some common grounds for wrongful termination claims in California 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 - California law prohibits your employer from firing 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.
  • Violation of public policy - California law prohibits your employer from firing you for reasons that violate public policy. This includes refusing to engage in illegal activities at the employer's request, such as committing fraud, embezzling, or violating environmental or safety laws.
  • Whistleblowing - California law prohibits your employer from firing you for reporting illegal activity such as violations of environmental or safety laws, securities laws, or healthcare regulations. You are also protected if you report violations of federal laws and regulations under the California Whistleblower Protection Act, which covers wage and hour, discrimination, workplace safety violations, and others.
  • Breach of employment contract - California law prohibits your employer from violating the terms of an employment contract, particularly terms that specify 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.
  • Breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing - California law prohibits your employer from r undermining or interfering with your ability to perform your  contractual duties.
  • Constructive discharge - California law prohibits your employer from intentionally creating intolerable working conditions that ultimately force you to quit. This is also referred to as “constructive dismissal”.

It is important to note that even though you might think your termination was unfair, it does not always mean that it was unlawful. Your employer reserves the right to fire you for any reason not listed above. For example, if your employer fires you for poor performance, you might think it is unfair, but it might not be unlawful. Similarly, if your employer terminates you due to downsizing or restructuring, you might not think it is fair, but it would likely be considered a lawful reason for dismissal.

If you believe you were wrongly terminated, you must prove your firing violated a specific law or public policy to have a valid wrongful termination claim. An experienced employment attorney can review the facts to determine if the termination was unlawful.

How is Constructive Dismissal Different From Retaliatory Firing?

Both constructive dismissal and retaliatory firing are illegal under California law, but differ significantly.

Constructive dismissal (also known as constructive discharge) is recognized under California common law (CACI No.2510), and occurs 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 will also have to show that your employer intended for you to quit or knew it would happen as a result of the intolerable conditions.

On the other hand, retaliatory firing is prohibited by various state and federal laws including the California Labor Code Section 1102.5, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights AAct of 1964. Retaliatory firing occurs when your employer terminates you for engaging in protected activity. Retaliatory firing is not only illegal under California state law, but also under federal law.

Some protected activities include:

  • Reporting discrimination or harassment
  • Participating in workplace investigations
  • Requesting disability or religious accommodations
  • Taking protected leave under FMLA or CFRA
  • Raising concerns about unpaid wages or overtime violations

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 protects your activity
  • Your employer took adverse action against you
  • There was an identifiable, causal link between the activity you engaged in and your employer’s action

If you were fired shortly after engaging in protected conduct, you may have a claim for retaliatory or wrongful termination. Your lawyer will work to gather evidence to prove the connection between the protected activity and your termination. 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.

How Can I Tell if My Termination was Due to Discrimination?

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 have 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 does not have adequate documentation, cannot give a valid reason for your termination, 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 a protected activity like reporting discrimination, sexual harassment, requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability, or any other life event that you think might be significant, your termination might be linked to discrimination or retaliation.

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.

What If My Employer Fired Me for Taking Protected Leave In California?

Your employer cannot fire you for taking protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave during a 12-month period for certain personal or family medical conditions under the CFRA. This guarantees that employees will not lose their jobs or suffer other adverse actions for taking protected leave.

The FMLA and CFRA protect employees' rights to take leave for qualifying reasons without fear of retaliation or termination. For instance, an employee may take leave for a serious health condition or to care for a family member dealing with one (§12945.2). An employee is not required to expressly assert his or her rights under CFRA or FMLA to meet the notice requirement. Rather,  they are only required to state why they are taking the leave.

n employee may state a claim under California law for wrongful termination on the grounds that their firing violated public policy based on rights guaranteed by the CFRA. This means that if an employer fires an employee for exercising their rights under the CFRA, the employee could sue their employer.

Both the FMLA and CFRA provide protections for employees taking leave, and if they face adverse actions, such as termination, for taking such leave, their employers could potentially face legal consequences.

In addition to the FMLA and CFRA, the  California Paid Family Leave (PFL) program provides money to workers who need to take time off to care for their loved ones. Eligible employees can receive partial wage replacement benefits for up to eight weeks in a 12-month period, allowing them to focus on their family responsibilities without the additional burden of financial insecurity.

The program covers a wide range of situations, including caring for family members with serious illnesses, bonding with a new baby, and participating in a family member's military deployment. While the PFL program does not guarantee that the employee’s job will be protected, other laws like FMLA or CFRA may provide additional safeguards to fill gaps such as this one.

Does California’s WARN Act Apply to My Situation?

The California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act was designed to protect the interests of employees in situations where companies initiate significant workforce reductions. This state law requires qualifying employers to give 60 days' notice to workers, their representatives, and specific government officials before implementing mass layoffs, relocations, or terminations. It also requires employers to notify employees in advance when they intend to lay off 50 or more employees within a 30-day window, move operations 100 miles or more away, or substantially scale back or discontinue industrial or commercial activities.

Notably, the California WARN Act does not protect all employees within the state, as it only applies to employers who meet certain criteria. For example, an employer must have had at least 75 full-time or part-time employees within the past year to be subject to the California WARN Act.

For the employees that the WARN Act does protect, the act gives affected workers a chance to prepare for an impending job loss, explore new employment opportunities, and seek retraining if needed. Employers who fail to comply with the notice requirement may face penalties, including liability for back pay and benefits for up to 60 days.

What are Your Rights Under Federal and California Law?

State and federal laws offer you a broad spectrum of rights, including but not limited to:

  • The right to be paid for the hours that you worked and the wages that you 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.

Elements of a California Wrongful Termination Claim

To prove that you have been a victim of wrongful termination, you generally must show:

  • The defendant employed you;
  • You were terminated;
  • Your termination violated public policy, contract, or anti-discrimination/retaliation laws; and
  • The termination harmed you.

Gathering documentation about your termination, such as emails, performance reviews, and witness statements, can help substantiate your claim.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Claims

Generally speaking, the statute of limitations for wrongful termination claims in California is two years from the date of the firing. Interestingly, these types of claims rely on California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1, which broadly applies to all causes of action stemming from injuries caused by the wrongful acts of others. The most common acts that fall under this statute are assault and battery; however, wrongful termination claims fall under this umbrella, as well.

With this being said, some state statutes provide different statutes of limitations for particular types of claims, and there are certain circumstances that can may extend or shorten a prescribed statute of limitations.

The statutes of limitations for wrongful termination claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Labor Code, in particular, vary depending on a case's specific circumstances. For example, for claims under FEHA, the statute of limitations is one year from the date of the right-to-sue notice issued by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This period can be tolled during a mandatory or voluntary dispute resolution proceeding. Similarly, the statute of limitations for a wrongful termination claim can be tolled when certain charges related to discrimination or harassment are filed concurrently with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

For claims brought under the California Labor Code, the statute of limitations is two years for an oral employment contract and four years for a written one. The accrual date for these claims is generally the date the unpaid compensation was due to the employee. However, for claims related to failure to pay accrued, vested vacation wages, the cause of action accrues on the date of termination.

It is also important to note that the laws that prescribe these statutes of limitations carve out some exceptions for claims that meet specific conditions. The exact length of statutes of limitation can vary and heavily depend on the details of the case. For example, the FEHA statute of limitations does not apply to class actions brought by those who have filed a comparable employment discrimination claim in federal courts against the same defendants.

Damages Available for Wrongful Termination in California

In California, the compensation available in wrongful termination claims usually includes the salary provided in the employment contract. This amount will usually cover the entire remaining uncompensated period of service unless the employer can prove that the employee could have mitigated his losses by securing other comparable employment.

Other types of compensation might include:

  • 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 are 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.
  • Emotional Distress - Compensation for mental suffering, anxiety, depression, grief, and humiliation arising from the termination. These types of damages are best proved by medical records, therapy costs, and testimony from family/friends.
  • Punitive Damages - In rare instances, a judge or jury might award you punitive damages to punish your employer for a particularly egregious violation 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.
  • Attorney's Fees and Associated Costs - In some cases, like discrimination claims under FEHA, an employee could recover reasonable attorney's fees and other costs associated with litigation.
  • Reinstatement - Sometimes employees are able to get their jobs back as a form of compensation. Though this is possible, it is rare, especially when the relationship between the employer and employee has been damaged beyond repair.
  • Injunctive relief – Sometimes the court will order an employer to change unlawful practices, depending on the situation, ensuring that no future employee is subject to the same injustice

Common Mistakes When Filing a Wrongful Termination Claim

Some common mistakes to avoid when filing a wrongful termination claim in California include the following:

  • Not gathering sufficient evidence - It is critical to collect and preserve all relevant documentation, such as emails, performance reviews, employee handbooks, and witness statements, that can help support your wrongful termination claim.
  • Delaying filing the claim - There are strict time limits for filing wrongful termination claims. Waiting too long not only gives the employer time to destroy evidence, but it can also make courts skeptical of the validity of the allegations and prevent you from taking legal action, altogether. In most cases, you have two years from the termination date to file, but you should file as soon as possible.
  • Not being specific about the reason for termination - Alleging discrimination on too many grounds can weaken your case. It is better to focus on the most relevant and provable reasons, like age, disability, pregnancy, etc.
  • Discussing the case publicly or on social media – Do not make public statements or social media posts about your termination. against you in your case.
  • Signing agreements without legal review - Never sign any severance agreements or waivers without having an employment attorney review them first.
  • Acting without legal representation - You should immediately consult an experienced employment lawyer to file your wrongful termination claim to avoid damaging your case.
  • Ignoring employment contracts - Carefully review your employment contract with your attorney, since it may contain information relevant to your termination and your claim.

To maximize your chances of success, document the circumstances surrounding your firing, act promptly, consult an employment lawyer, and avoid common missteps that could undermine your wrongful termination case. Your attorney will advise you on the specific steps to take depending on  your particular situation.

How Could a Wrongful Termination Lawyer Help Me?

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.

What Should I Bring to My First Consultation with a Bay Area Wrongful Termination Lawyer?

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 the consultation so you can better understand your rights.

 What the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak Can Do for You

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 will never have to worry about paying out of pocket to discuss the specifics of your potential case.

Our experienced California wrongful termination attorneys will:

  • Thoroughly review the details of your termination. Our attorneys will identify potential legal violations and build a strong case on your behalf. To support your claim, we'll gather evidence, such as employment contracts, performance reviews, correspondence, and witness statements.
  • Provide expert guidance on wrongful termination law. We'll make sure to meet all relevant deadlines and follow the proper procedures to maximize your chances of success.
  • Handle all communications and negotiations with your former employer and their legal team. We know how to stand up to companies both large and small. If we can’t reach a fair settlement for your wrongful termination claim, we won’t be afraid to take your case to court and fight for what is right.
  • Offer skilled representation at all stages of the legal process. From initial filings and discovery to mediation, arbitration, and trial, our attorneys have a proven track record of success in wrongful termination cases.
  • Provide compassionate support and guidance during this stressful time - We understand the emotional and financial toll a wrongful termination can take. You can count on us to aggressively advocate for your interests and help you move forward with your career.

Founding attorney Jeremy Pasternak has been recognized as a Super Lawyer in Northern California every year since 2008. Under his leadership, our firm has successfully represented countless employees in wrongful termination cases just like yours.

Don't let your employer’s unjust actions jeopardize your livelihood and your future. Act today by scheduling a free, confidential consultation with one of our knowledgeable California wrongful termination lawyers. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by speaking up and seeking the justice you deserve. Contact our team at (415) 693-0300 or use our contact form for a confidential consultation.

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