5 Fast Facts: What Counts As A “Wrongful Termination?”

There’s a lot of inaccurate information online about your rights to file a lawsuit against an employer.  You might read that if you’re an “at will employee” or work in an “at will state,” you can’t sue.  (Wrong.) Or that if you’re still in your new-hire probationary period, you can’t file a case.  (Wrong again.)

The truth is, the law protects you against employer misconduct (a) from the moment you inquire about a job, (b) through your entire period of employment, and (c) then for years after you’re gone. “At will” doesn’t give any employer cover to violate your rights. Nor does probationary status. Unfortunately, some employers spread these myths to discourage claims by applicants or employees who’ve been mistreated. Sadly, some employees buy into the myths and don’t hold the employer accountable.

Our firm has deep expertise in employee rights.  It’s all we do, and it’s all we’ve ever done.  Here’s the scoop on wrongful termination, and how easy it can be to succeed in a lawsuit against an employer:

  1. A termination is wrongful if it violates a law, rule, or regulation, no matter what an employer says, and no matter what its policies say.  There are literally dozens of laws that apply to the workplace.  Some cover your characteristics, like race, gender, age, disability, pregnancy, national origin, military service, sexual orientation and religion.  (This is a partial list.  There are many more.)  Some cover things you do, like when you suffer an on-the-job injury, or need medical leave for illness or surgery, or blow the whistle on sketchy practices by your employer.  When you’re gone, the law protects you against false job references and other post-employment retaliation.
  2. You don’t need to worry about whether you’ll have witnesses to back you up. It’s often true, unfortunately, that coworkers won’t speak up to support someone who’s been wrongfully terminated.  They’re job-scared.  But that’s okay.  In fact, your testimony alone many be enough to win.  Many of our biggest jury verdicts were in cases where no one supported our client’s version of events.  It doesn’t matter.  When a jury in an employment case is about to begin deliberating, they’re told that they must not give any weight to how many witnesses testified for each side. If the jury believes our client, and chooses to disbelieve an army of witnesses for the employer, our client wins.  And our clients win often.  Some of our success comes from being able to destroy dishonest witnesses through powerful cross-examination.
  3. The legal standard for winning an employment case is the lowest in the American judicial system. That’s right.  The jury must decide only whether our version of events is “probably” true.  If our client’s testimony is more likely than not the truth, our client wins. It’s not “beyond a reasonable doubt,” like in criminal cases, where the government needs to prove its case almost to absolute scientific certainty.  (We call that the 99% standard.) In an employment case, the 51% standard applies. In other words, we win even if the jury thinks our version is only slightly more likely to be true than the employer’s.  Why?  Because in employment cases, the truth often can’t be proven to scientific certainty.  There aren’t chemical tests, fingerprints, breathalyzers, or or technical experts.  So an employment jury is allowed to have lots of doubt – it’s almost unavoidable – as long as it believes our case more than the employer’s.  How much more doesn’t matter.
  4. You win a wrongful termination suit as long as the employer had at least one illegal motive – no matter how many other legitimate motives it had. An employment decision can never include an illegal reason. How does this work? Suppose you get fired because (a) you argued with the boss, (b) stirred up conflict, (c) sometimes arrived late, (d) have a messy office, (e) are rude to clients, and because, by the way, (f) you have cancer and don’t have as much energy as you used to. So while the boss doesn’t fire others for all the same problems, he fires you because you also happen to have cancer.  In this situation, the employer’s decision includes multiple legitimate reasons, but one illegal one.  On these facts, the employer has violated your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and you’ll win at trial. An employer’s decision cannot be based in whole or in part on any illegal reason.  Even if an employer has 100 reasons to fire you, none of them can be something the law forbids.
  5. Let’s combine what we learned in points 4 and 5 above. You win your wrongful termination case if the employer “probably” had “at least one” illegal reason or motive. That’s how it works.  It’s not beyond a reasonable doubt, or beyond a reasonable anything. It’s whether our case is probably right – that the boss had at least one illegal reason in mind when terminating you.  And there are lots of ways we prove that.  This may help you appreciate why, as trial lawyers, we don’t need to rely on other employees to come forward.

Keep in mind that it isn’t just a wrongful termination that you can pursue.  The law gives you rights against illegal motives in virtually all other employment decisions.  This includes promotions, demotions, pay increases or cuts, the denial of medical or disability leave, unfair discipline, transfers, hostile work environments, suspensions, work assignments, training, layoffs, reductions in hours, unpaid wages and overtime, bad references and many others.

Call Us For a Free Consultation at (800) 663-7999

Questions?  Our consultations are always free.  We’ve successfully represented employees across Florida and Georgia for more than thirty years.  We specialize in employee rights, never represent an employer, and never take any other kinds of cases. Beware law firms that handle all kinds of cases. Lawyers are not required to have expertise in an area before advertising for any kind of case.  So a lawyer who does personal injury today, dog bites tomorrow, hurricane cases the next and sometimes an employment case can do terrible damage to your case and to your career.  We’re contacted from time to time by someone who hired a one-size-fits-all law firm that failed to file all the right claims, that missed deadlines, that agreed to settle for low amounts because they applied their experience from a personal injury case or some other field.  It’s a dangerous game for those lawyers to play, and they’re playing with your right and career.

Stick with the specialists whose work is dedicated to employee rights.

Categories: wrongful termination

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