Wrongful Termination

Under California law, if an employer discharges or fires an employee in a manner that violates their legal rights, it may constitute “wrongful termination.”


California has adopted the legal concept of “employment at will,” which means that when there is no employment contract or legal entitlement (such as a right derived through a union contract), either employees or employers have the right to terminate the relationship for any reason BUT the employer may not terminate the employer-employee relationship for discriminatory, harassing, or retaliatory reasons.

In other words, even though California is an “at will” employment state, if it can be proven that an employer illegally terminated an employee, their attorney can file a claim or lawsuit for wrongful termination on their behalf.  An experienced employment law attorney may obtain or recover:

  1. Lost wages;
  2. Emotional damages;
  3. Injunctive relief;
  4. Punitive damages;
  5. Potential for Reinstatement of benefits and position; as well as
  6. Attorney’s fees and court costs

Given the complexities of Wrongful Termination cases in California, we advise you to contact one of our experienced employment attorneys at 213-626-4100 today. We handle wrongful termination and other employment issues throughout California. Consult counsel at the Employment and Housing Law Practice for more information on the complex legal issues regarding “at will” employment and “wrongful termination.”

In California, wrongful termination (which may be statutory under FEHA or based on common on common law wrongful termination in violation of public policy) is often difficult to prove because unless an employee is hired pursuant to a union contract or an individual employment contract, the employer-employee relationship in California is presumed to be “at will.”  An “at will” relationship basically means that an employer can fire someone for any reason other than one based on discrimination or other illegal reason, such as when someone refuses to engage in illegal activity and is fired as a result.

The “at will” relationship can be modified either verbally or through custom or practice.  For example, if an employee handbook contains a progressive discipline policy where verbal or written criticisms must be made prior to terminating an employee, an argument exists that the employee was wrongfully terminated if the company did not follow its own policies.  Similarly, if an employer gives verbal assurances of continued employment, the “at will” relationship may found to have been modified such that the employee had a reasonable expectation of continuing employment for some time in the future.  Based on these types of assurances, the employment relationship may be found to have been modified so that an employer could be required to establish “good cause” prior to terminating an employee.

“Good Cause” means “fair and honest reasons, regulated by good faith on the part of the employer, that are not trivial, arbitrary, or capricious, unrelated to business needs or goals, or pretextual.  A reasoned conclusion, in short, supported by substantial evidence gathered through an adequate investigation that includes notice of the claimed misconduct and a chance for the employee to respond.”  Cotran v. Rollins Hudig Hall Int’l, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 93, 108.  Although the Cothran Court recognized the need for deference to employer decisions (Id. at 101), the employer’s discretion is not unfettered.  Otherwise, its implied-in-fact promise to dismiss only for cause would be illusory. Wood v. Loyola Marymount Univ. (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 661, 670.

Wrongful termination claims turn on the individual facts in any given case.  It is therefore important that the employee keep copies of any hiring letters, employee handbooks, and performance evaluations so that a reviewing attorney can better assist in evaluating the potential case.

If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination as a result of sex, race, ethnicity, age, religion, medical condition, or because you have opposed illegal activity in the workplace, our attorneys are here to help.

Our lawyers are highly skilled and accessible to get personal attention to every matter.

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