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Can I Sue My Employer for Wrongful Demotion?

Upset employee

While a promotion is a sign of good work ethic and accomplishments in employment, a demotion implies the opposite. A demotion can lower a person’s responsibilities, stature and salary. It implies that the employee’s work is not up to the standards required to keep his or her current position. That is why it is important to ensure that if you, as an employee, get demoted, it is for the right and legal reasons. Below, our Los Angeles employment lawyers explain whether you can sue your employer for wrongful demotion.

Discuss Your Demotion With a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer

Do you believe that you were wrongfully demoted at work in Los Angeles? We recommend that you speak with an experienced employment lawyer about your situation. At Yadegar, Minoofar & Soleymani LLP, our Los Angeles employment lawyers have extensive experience with wrongful demotion cases. During a free consultation, we can answer your questions and help you understand your legal options. Call us at (310) 526-8152 or contact us online to get started.

Understanding California’s At-Will Employment Policy

California maintains an “at-will” employment policy. “At-will employment” means that an employer can end the employment relationship at any time for any reason, as long as it is not illegal. Similarly, employees are free to walk out whenever they want without warning or reason.

Since an employer can terminate an employee at will, that means that employees also can be demoted at will. However, there are certain circumstances in which an employer does not have the right to demote an employee.

What Is a Wrongful Demotion?

When an employer demotes an employee for unlawful reasons, it is a wrongful demotion. Generally, there are two ways a demotion is unlawful – it is either discriminatory or a breach of contract.

Wrongful Demotion Based on Discrimination or Retaliation

An employer cannot demote an employee for discriminatory reasons or for whistleblowing. Federal law and California law protect certain classes from discrimination in the workplace. Examples of these classes include, but are not limited to:

  • Sex (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and/or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity/gender expression
  • Disability (mental and physical including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and genetic characteristics)
  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Age

Employers also cannot demote an employee in retaliation for engaging in protected activities. For example, protected activities may include reporting an employer’s illegal activity.

Wrongful Demotion Based on Contractual Reasons

If an employer and employee have signed a contract limiting the power to demote, then that would take precedence over the at-will employment clause. Another way an employer may be limited in its right to demote an employee is if the employer’s policies make this limitation “implied-in-fact.” This may be true if your contract implies that your position and pay will not change.

Can I File a Wrongful Demotion Lawsuit in California?

The courts consider several factors in evaluating whether a demotion is wrongful. These factors include:

  1. Employee’s status. Is the employee an at-will employee?
  2. Employer’s policy. The courts look at the employer’s policy and whether its expectations make note of demotions or similar repercussions for not meeting employee expectations.
  3. “Good cause” standard. The “good cause” standard seeks to determine if employees would only be subject to demotion for good cause. If this is written in the employer’s policy, there is a smaller window of cause for the demotion of an employee.
  4. Employee’s performance. The courts will look at the employee’s length of employment, performance evaluations, and whether the employee demonstrated a reasonable expectation that the employer would follow their own policies.

All of these factors help courts determine whether an employee was wrongfully demoted.

Do You Believe You Were Wrongfully Demoted at Work?

We understand that a demotion is very stressful. It can negatively impact your morale, income and livelihood. Do you believe you were wrongfully demoted from your position due to discriminatory reasons or contractual reasons? If so, you should consult with one of our Los Angeles employment attorneys to learn about your rights.

We can answer any legal questions you may have and help you to understand your legal options, if any. Call us at (310) 526-8152 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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