Wrongful Termination -- Employee Law

EEOC Wrongful Termination Cases

State and federal laws create exceptions to at-will employment. These exceptions make it illegal for an employer to fire someone in certain circumstances. Employment discrimination is one of those exceptions. When that happens, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can step in and take action.

This page broadly overviews the EEOC’s role in wrongful termination disputes. It covers the agency’s investigation process and provides examples of EEOC wrongful termination cases. Consult an employment attorney in a city near you for answers to your questions about wrongful termination. An experienced employment lawyer can explain the law and help you file an EEOC complaint.

At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination

At-will employment allows employers and employees to end an employment relationship without notice or for any reason. But federal and state laws create exceptions to at-will employment. The exceptions fall into four general categories:

  • Employment discrimination
  • Violation of public policy
  • Refusing to break the law
  • Being a whistleblower

Wrongful termination is when an employer fires someone for a reason that falls into one of the above exceptions. So, when an employer fires someone for a discriminatory reason, it’s wrongful termination. But not all wrongful termination is discriminatory. For example, firing a whistleblower is wrongful termination but not discrimination.

The Employment Discrimination Exception

Employment discrimination is one of the exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. That means an employer cannot fire you because of a protected characteristic, such as your race, age, religion, genetic information, pregnancy status, disability, national origin, or gender.

EEOC Wrongful Termination Investigation

The EEOC is the primary federal agency that enforces the above anti-discrimination laws. The agency’s primary enforcement mechanism is investigating charges of discrimination, which is a complaint that an employer has illegally discriminated against an employee. Individuals often start discrimination charges. But the EEOC can initiate an investigation in certain circumstances.

The EEOC follows its general investigation process for a wrongful termination charge. It will request a response from the employer. The agency may then proceed with interviewing employees and performing a visit. The employer may have to provide documents such as personnel records and H.R. policies during an investigation.

If the EEOC finds that the employer discriminated, it will try to settle with the employer. If the parties can’t settle, the agency may file a lawsuit against the employer in federal court. But employers are often motivated to settle to avoid the cost and inconvenience of litigating a complaint.

The EEOC may also give the employee a notice of right to sue, a document allowing the employee to file a lawsuit on their own.

Filing a Wrongful Termination Charge

The EEOC only investigates a small number of the charges of discrimination it receives. So, to increase the chance the agency investigates your complaint, you should gather as much evidence as possible. For example, the following items can help prove discrimination:

  • Employee handbook
  • Employment contract, if one exists
  • Witness statements
  • Emails, memos, and phone messages

You only have 180 days from the day of your firing to file the complaint. So, gather this evidence as quickly as possible. You can file a charge of discrimination via:

You can also file with a relevant state or local agency if one exists.

Wrongful Termination Settlements

The EEOC’s goal when settling with an employer is to put the employee as close to the same position as they would have been had the discrimination not happened. For wrongful termination claims, that often means giving the employee their job back and giving them back pay for missed paychecks.

Settlements will also require the employer to stop discriminating. That could mean the employer will have to change its internal processes. You could also potentially recover attorney’s fees, court costs, and additional financial compensation, depending on the nature of the discrimination and your losses.

Compensatory and Punitive Damages

You can win compensatory and punitive damages when the wrongful termination is due to discrimination because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Genetic information

Compensatory damages reimburse you for extra costs due to the discrimination, such as the costs of finding a new job or dealing with emotional harm. Punitive damages punish employers that commit malicious acts of discrimination.

The law limits the compensatory and punitive damages a complainant may win. The limits vary based on the employer’s size.

Liquidated Damages

Liquidated damages punish employers for egregious acts of discrimination. Liquidated damages are available in age and gender-based wage discrimination cases. The amount of liquidated damages available equals the amount of back pay awarded to the employee.

Wrongful Termination and Retaliation

Retaliation happens when an employer punishes someone for participating in a protected activity, like filing a discrimination complaint. So, for example, an employer cannot punish an employee who filed a sexual harassment complaint.

It’s important to note that your employer can punish you for legitimate reasons. Examples include poor performance, misconduct, or behavior that creates a toxic work environment. But if you think your employer is retaliating against you, you should contact the EEOC immediately.

Contact an Employment Discrimination Attorney

When it comes to filing an EEOC complaint and going through an investigation, there is a specific process to follow. It is better to contact a wrongful termination attorney to walk you through the process and represent you, protect your rights, and ensure your complaint is filed properly.

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