Wrongful Termination -- Employee Law

When Is Discrimination Wrongful Termination?

Discrimination is wrongful termination when you’re fired based on a protected characteristic. Federal laws protect you from being fired because of characteristics such as race, age, religion, and disability. Some states expand protections to more characteristics.

This article explains when employment discrimination is wrongful termination. State employment laws vary. So, you should contact a wrongful termination lawyer in your area. An experienced attorney can give you legal advice. They can also represent you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

At-will employment means that you can leave your job at any time. Your employer can also fire you at any time. Generally, you’re an at-will employee if you don’t have a written employment contract.

It’s wrongful termination when your boss fires you for an illegal reason. Wrongful termination is also called wrongful discharge. Federal and state laws establish the illegal reasons for terminating an employee.

Following are some examples of wrongful termination under federal law:

  • Violation of public policy: Your boss can’t fire you if it’s against federal or state law. Violating anti-discrimination laws is an example of breaking the law.
  • Being a whistleblower: Some laws protect you if you report your employer’s illegal acts, like their discrimination against other employees.
  • Participating in a protected activity: For example, you can’t be fired for joining a union. Your boss also can’t fire you for reporting unsafe working conditions.
  • Exercising your employee rights: For instance, you can take medical leave without losing your job.
  • Breaching an implied contract: Sometimes an unwritten employment agreement gets created between you and your boss. For example, an employee handbook can create an implied contract.

What Is Employment Discrimination?

Employers face tough choices. Those choices often mean an employee loses out on something they want like a promotion or a lucrative sales territory.

Employers are generally free to use any criteria they want to make those decisions. But it’s illegal to use your protected characteristics as the basis for those decisions. Firing you based on one of these characteristics is employment discrimination.

Acts that violate discrimination laws are a violation of public policy. So, it’s wrongful termination if your boss fires you for a discriminatory reason.

Federal discrimination laws protect you from facing discrimination for the following characteristics:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy
  • Disability
  • Age if over 40
  • Genetic information

State laws may protect more characteristics. California, for example, protects marital status. An employment lawyer in your area will know your state’s law and even if you live in a city that extends further anti-discrimination protections to workers.

Examples of Wrongful Termination

Here are some examples of wrongful termination based on discrimination. Firing employees for:

  • Requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability
  • Turning 55
  • Being Hispanic
  • Getting pregnant
  • Having an increased risk of getting breast cancer
  • Attending a Catholic church

It’s not wrongful termination if your boss fires you for a legitimate reason. Following are some examples:

  • Violating a company policy
  • Destroying company property
  • Creating a hostile work environment

An employment law attorney or a government investigator with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will ask you questions and look for evidence related to your firing. If you have any records that could prove discrimination, you should pass those along to your lawyer or government investigators.

Contact an Employment Lawyer for Help With Your Case

It could be wrongful termination if your boss fires you for a discriminatory reason, but wrongful termination cases can be complex. So, knowing your legal rights is essential. An employment lawyer can give you legal advice about your situation. They can also help you file a wrongful termination lawsuit or attempt to negotiate a settlement on your behalf.

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