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How Do You Prove Wrongful Termination In California?

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Tessa King - Employment Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Tessa King

Located in Sherman Oaks, CAReisner & King LLP

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Proving whether you were wrongfully terminated can be complicated. Usually, the company that fired you will use some pretext, such as supposedly poor work performance or insubordination. Typical evidence to counter claims that a worker was fired for legitimate reasons may include: 

  • Positive performance reviews
  • A history of raises, promotions and job training
  • A pattern of accepting the type of behavior in other workers that supposedly got the employee fired
  • Emails and other communications suggesting that the worker was terminated for an illegal reason. 

It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of the California workforce are hired on an “at-will” basis. This means that they do not have an employment contract and can be fired at any time for any reason not prohibited by law. The reason does not have to be business-related; in theory, you can lose your job because you and your boss root for rival sports teams, or simply because she or he does not like you. 

Still, a strong wrongful termination claim can compensate you for your lost past and future wages, emotional distress and other harms you suffered. You can feel that your reputation has been restored and you can move on with your career. As with most civil law matters, wrongful termination must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence — a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof required in criminal court. 

The Three Bases For A Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

The most important thing to understand is that California employers have wide powers to hire and fire members of their workforces — with certain limits. Specifically, state and federal law prohibit the termination of an employee due to their being a member of a protected class. For example, in California your employer cannot fire you because of your: 

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Religious beliefs
  • Marital status
  • Disability status
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation 

Another illegal reason for firing a worker is in retaliation for the worker taking certain actions to assert his or her rights. For example, firing an employee for reporting discrimination or sexual harassment is wrongful termination. So is firing a worker for being part of a union, or for being close to earning retirement benefits. 

Some workers, such as high-level executives, often work under an employment contract, the terms of which they and their employer negotiated and agreed to. The contract may limit the terms under which the employee can be terminated. If the employer violates the contract while firing the worker, that could be terms for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

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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