Wrongful terminations occur when an employer fires or lays someone off for illegal reasons, such as a protected class. It can also happen when an employer ignores contracted terms or retaliates against an employee for one reason or another. How do you know if your termination was in accordance with the law?
In 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received more than 470,000 calls, 187,000 in-person queries, and 122,775 online inquiries regarding workplace discrimination complaints. Of those complaints, many wrongful terminations tie to one of these 10 common categories of workplace discrimination, such as age, color, disability, gender, or religion.
Retaliation and the Equal Pay Act are other reasons someone may experience a wrongful termination. Here are 10 situations where an employee was wrongfully terminated.
A person cannot be fired due to their advancing age. If you lose your job because you’re older, you may have a valid age discrimination claim. This is what happened in a case where two airline employees won an age discrimination lawsuit after a federal court of appeals found that they’d been wrongfully terminated due to their age. They received an award of over $2.3 million.
The airline claimed the pair were fired for sharing earbuds while watching videos during a break and for failing to put on aprons during a flight’s beverage service. During the court hearing, it came out that neither worker had ever had a disciplinary warning and had received high praise from co-workers, management, and passengers. The jury found that the pair were wrongfully terminated based on age discrimination.
One of the largest verdicts in history is tied to a disability discrimination complaint. A retail worker with Down Syndrome had been on the job for 15 years when a new scheduling system was launched. The new schedule impacted the worker’s routine, so the employee brought it up to management.
Rather than work with her to adjust the schedule to fit her health needs, the company fired her for showing up late. She was awarded $125 million for the wrongful termination based on disability discrimination.
The Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 is a federal labor law stating that men and women must be given “equal pay for equal work.” An attorney for a streaming service filed a wrongful termination complaint after it came out that she was making half of what her male counterparts were earning, and she found alleged evidence of tax fraud. Eventually, the company fired her claiming she was using her corporate card on personal expenses. Her wrongful termination complaint has been filed and is pending the outcome.
Gender discrimination in the world of video game creation has been ongoing. One company agreed to a $100 million settlement for 2,000 female employees. Women were being denied promotions over men and faced regular sexual harassment and unequal pay.
One of the complaints against the company involved an executive assistant who was fired after she reported the CEO has sexually harassed her. The company denies that she was fired for that reason. That is one of the cases that is still open.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 has been in place for decades, yet women still find themselves abruptly fired after announcing their pregnancy. One Oklahoma woman was fired after crying on the job during her first trimester. A particularly aggressive customer yelled at her and she broke down. She lost her job for being “too emotional,” but she sued for wrongful termination.
An African-American project manager was subjected to racial harassment through derogatory terms and harassment based on his mental health issues stemming from PTSD from his time in the military. When he complained, his management allegedly told him to “get over it.” He was moved to another department where he had less responsibility and was eventually fired.
He filed a wrongful termination complaint in 2022. It wasn’t the first time a wrongful termination or discrimination complaint had been filed against this company. In 2021, a former employee received a $137 million award for racial discrimination.
In Maryland, a professor found her contract renewal denied after ten years of teaching at the college. All was fine until she formed a group to counter antisemitism and the boycott of Israel. When her opposition to Israeli boycotts was revealed and that she was taking a Passover trip to Israel, the college announced they would not be renewing her contract. The 2022 case is pending.
If an employee refuses to take part in work duties that are suspected as being illegal or unethical or reports discriminatory acts against another employee, they cannot be fired in retaliation for speaking up.
In 2015, an assistant city attorney in California was handling the criminal division/domestic violence unit when alleged complaints from other workers and accusations of mishandled case files led to her removal from that position. She was eventually fired.
She claimed she was really fired for retaliation after refusing to prosecute two cases due to what she felt were only being pursued for political gain. Plus, she refused to change an employee’s negative performance review.
Her wrongful termination complaint was based on retaliation and led to a six-week trial in which jurors sided with her. She was awarded $3.9 million, $500,000 of which was for emotional damage.
Sexual harassment in the workplace regularly makes the news. A college employee in the IT department was offered a promotion. In the new job, she was sexually harassed by her supervisor. She reported his behavior and his attitude toward her became hostile. She eventually lost her job after her supervisor claimed she’d lied about where she was one day. She filed a wrongful termination complaint and was offered a settlement.
A casino vice president called the casino’s Audit Committee out for filing false meeting minutes to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Four days after reporting her company’s wrongdoing, she was fired. Her management claimed her termination was related to her harsh behavior with the Audit Committee.
The resort casino reached an unnamed settlement with her two years after she filed the whistleblowing complaint against the casino group and members of the Audit Committee.
What If Your Termination Seems Unjustified?
Were you fired and feel it wasn’t a justifiable termination? Stand up for your rights. Here are a few tips on what to do next.
- Talk to HR or whoever is listed in the employee handbook for filing wrongful termination or discrimination claims. Start there, and see what the response is. If you feel you’re being ignored, you’ll need to escalate it to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in California.
- Gather as much evidence as you can. This includes copies of emails and names of people who witnessed discriminatory behavior towards you. If you have positive job reviews, get copies of that paperwork.
- Get any medical paperwork, such as a doctor’s note requiring you to avoid heavy lifting or stand on your feet for more than X amount. This is important if you suspect you’ve been fired due to your disability or pregnancy.
It may be easier to have an expert’s help. Get expert advice from top employment law attorneys. Shegerian Conniff is happy to arrange a free consultation to go over your complaint. We’ll walk you through the next steps to take if we feel you have a valid case. Call now or complete the online contact us form to be connected with an attorney.