Can I Sue For Being Fired In California?

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Raymond E. Hane, III - Employment & Labor - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Raymond E. Hane, III

California Employment Counsel, APC
Costa Mesa, CA
Phone: 866.437.5773

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In general, an employer can terminate your relationship at any time. However, an employer can’t terminate you based on an improper or illegal purpose. In other words, an employer can’t use a legally protected status as a reason to fire you. 

California is known as an “at-will” state. This means presumptively you can quit at any time and your employer can let you go at any time without consequence. However, as with many rules, there are exceptions that almost always swallow up the general rule. 

The Umbrella Of Protected Classes 

These exceptions are all under the umbrella of protected classes. Your employer can fire you, but they can’t do for an improper purpose. An improper purpose can be due to you reporting an improper conduct or illegal activity in the workplace. It is often due to the employee being in a protected class. 

Protected classes/categories include: 

  • Race, ethnicity or national origin
  • Religion and ancestry
  • Gender, sexual orientation and gender expression/identity
  • Age, disability (mental/physical) or medical condition
  • Pregnancy, infant bonding/maternity or FMLA leave
  • Military/veteran status, military service or military leave 

These are just some of the many protected categories in California. Some states have more than others, and California has a considerable number of protected classes. 

The Question Of Pretext 

Another important aspect of wrongful termination is “pretext.” This is when your employer will fire you for an illegal reason but will claim they fired you under the guise or pretext of a different reason. For example, suppose your employer fired you because of your sexual orientation. You sue them for wrongful termination, and they claim they fired you because you were late to work. A case can be made that your employer is using pretext and in actuality, they fired you because of the illegal reason. 

Keep in mind, as with many employee rights cases, an employer also can’t retaliate against you for making an employment law claim. If you reported an instance of sexual harassment and the employer fires you because of this, that is considered “illegal retaliation.” This is also an illegal purpose and wrongful termination. 

Standing up for your rights is the first step toward gaining your rights back. Many employees are afraid to speak up, but there is nothing to lose if a lawyer takes on cases based on a “contingency fee.” This means you pay nothing unless your lawyer wins on your behalf.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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