Wrongful termination can have profound consequences for an individual’s career and well-being. In California, employees are protected by state and federal laws that safeguard against arbitrary or unlawful dismissals. If you find yourself in a situation where you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to file a wrongful termination case.
File a Complaint with the Appropriate Agency
Before filing a lawsuit, you may have to file a complaint with the appropriate state or federal agency responsible for enforcing civil rights laws and addressing discrimination and harassment issues in employment. Which agency and whether you have to will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. For example:
- The Civil Rights Department (CRD): California’s CRD investigates claims of discrimination and harassment. After the investigation, you may receive a right-to-sue letter.
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): If your case involves federal laws, you may also file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC and CRD have a work-sharing agreement, allowing them to cooperate in processing claims.
Once the CRD or EEOC completes its investigation or allows a specific period to pass without resolution, you will receive a right-to-sue letter. This letter grants you the right to file a lawsuit.
Initiating a Lawsuit
If you have not already, it is highly recommended to hire a Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer. They can help you with the administrative complaint process, as well as prepare your case before filing a lawsuit. Work with your attorney to collect evidence and support for your claim, such as:
- Offer letters
- Employee handbooks
- Performance evaluations
- Emails and memos
- Witness statements
If your termination is purportedly based on performance, gather records that demonstrate your positive contributions, achievements, and any recognition or commendations you may have received.
Next, prepare the necessary legal documents. That will include the complaint, which outlines the facts of the case, the legal basis for the claim, and the relief sought.
Serve the Employer
Properly serve the lawsuit on your former employer. This step is crucial to initiate the legal process formally.
The case proceeds to court, where both parties present evidence, witness testimonies, and legal arguments. The process may involve negotiations, mediation, or trial, depending on the circumstances. If successful, you may be entitled to compensatory damages, including lost wages, benefits, and emotional distress damages. In some cases, a court may order reinstatement to your former position or award front pay if reinstatement is not feasible.
Statute of Limitations
California has a statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a time limit for filing a wrongful termination claim. The deadline is generally two years from the date of termination, but exceptions may apply. Consulting an attorney early ensures compliance with this law.
Caifornia’s At-Will Employment Doctrine
While California follows the at-will employment doctrine, meaning employers can terminate employees for various reasons, it’s crucial to understand the exceptions. Wrongful termination claims often hinge on violations of public policy or specific legal protections. Here are examples of wrongful termination:
- Discrimination: Terminating an employee based on protected characteristics such as race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability, or age violates anti-discrimination laws.
- Retaliation: Firing an employee in retaliation for engaging in protected activities, such as whistleblowing, filing a complaint about workplace harassment, or exercising rights guaranteed by law.
- Breach of Employment Contract: If there is an employment contract in place, terminating an employee in violation of the terms outlined in the contract can be considered wrongful termination.
- Violation of Public Policy: Terminating an employee for reasons that violate public policy, such as refusing to participate in illegal activities or reporting unlawful practices within the company.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Violations: Wrongfully terminating an employee for taking protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or California Family Rights Act.
- Whistleblower Retaliation: Firing an employee for reporting illegal activities, health and safety violations, or other wrongdoing within the organization.
- Constructive Discharge: Creating such intolerable working conditions that the employee feels compelled to resign. This can be considered a form of wrongful termination.
- Sexual Harassment: Terminating an employee who has reported or complained about sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Failure to Accommodate: Wrongfully terminating an employee with a disability without providing reasonable accommodations, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
It’s important to note that each case is unique, and whether a termination is wrongful depends on the specific circumstances. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, speak to a trusted Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer as soon as possible.