When you lose your job, the shame associated with being fired can often stop you from examining the reason for your dismissal in the first place. Although sexual harassment and racial discrimination are widely recognized as the basis for many wrongful termination actions, there are other unlawful forms of discrimination that may motivate an employer’s behavior as well.
If you have been fired from your job, here are 3 surprising examples of recent wrongful termination cases that may help to shed some light on your situation and whether you should pursue legal action against your former employer.
Ortiz v. Chipotle: Workers’ Comp, FMLA and Workplace Discrimination
In 2018, a California Superior Court awarded a former Chipotle manager approximately $8 million in a wrongful termination lawsuit that, on its face, appeared to revolve around the theft of $636.
In the case, Chipotle claimed that it fired Jeannette Ortiz because she stole $636 from the local restaurant she managed. During the trial, Chipotle asserted that it had video of the theft, but someone filmed over the footage before the trial. The company also claimed that it threw away all messages, notes, and memos concerning the former manager’s firing. Ms. Ortiz denied stealing any money and argued that the Chipotle really fired her because of her previous workers’ compensation claims and pregnancies.
Ultimately the California court sided with Ms. Ortiz. Under federal law, employees have a right to file for workers’ compensation benefits for on-the-job injuries and, if eligible, to take time off for pregnancies under the Family Medical Leave Act. It is unlawful for an employer to fire a worker in retaliation for exercising their rights under these laws.
In another recent California case, Kourtney Liggins sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for wrongful termination related to her pregnancy. In 2013, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not renew Ms. Liggins’ teaching contract claiming that she was regularly late for work and answered phone calls during class.
Ms. Liggins alleged that the Archdiocese’s real reason for letting her go was because she was unwed and pregnant. Ms. Liggins claimed that a priest at the school told her that her pregnancy would “morally corrupt” students, and she was let go a few months later.
Once again, the court found in favor of the employee. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment. Therefore the Archdiocese acted illegally when it fired Ms. Liggins for being unwed and pregnant.
In April of last year, four female employees at the Nike headquarters in Oregon filed a class action lawsuit against the company. In addition to claims of sexual harassment, the women alleged that: (1) the company paid them significantly less than their male co-workers for the same job; (2) the company passed over female employees for promotions; and (3) women at Nike received smaller bonuses and fewer stock options than their male counterparts. Ultimately, these actions forced many of the women to quit their jobs at the company.
The Equal Pay Act requires that employers give men and women in the same workplace equal pay for equal work. Although the court has not made a decision in this case, the lawsuit is significant given the widely known pay gap between men and women in the U.S. If successful, this case could become a model for other workers who have been forced to quit their jobs because of pay discrimination.
Are you wondering whether you were illegally let go from your job? Livelihood Law is here to help. Contact us today so that we can assist you in figuring out your next steps.
If your employer has fired you, it’s normal to wonder whether the termination was legal. In Colorado, as in the majority of states, most employees have a non-contractual, “at will” relationship with their employer. Being at-will means that an employer can terminate you at any time, without explanation or warning. That said, employers cannot fire at-will employees for an illegal reason. That is called wrongful termination, or wrongful discharge, and you may have the right to sue.
Let’s take a look at key exceptions to the at-will doctrine and potential grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Wrongful Termination for Discrimination
Federal and state law make it illegal for an employer to fire an employee for discriminatory reasons, which may include discrimination relating to race, color, religion, pregnancy, disability, national origin, advanced age, sexual orientation or gender identity. If you believe your employer fired you for a discriminatory reason, you should speak to an experienced lawyer to help you through the process—which may require filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Colorado Civil Rights Division. There are deadlines for filing a charge, so don’t wait to talk to an attorney, or you may lose the right to pursue your claims.
In discrimination cases, employees may be entitled to receive both compensatory damages and punitive damages—money awarded to punish the employer and deter the company from continuing to engage in this illegal conduct.
Wrongful Termination for Retaliation
Retaliation occurs when an employer fires, demotes or disciplines an employee for taking a legally protected action relating to the workplace—such as whistleblowing, reporting or investigating an act of discrimination or harassment, or filing a complaint about hazardous work conditions. To prove retaliation, you must be able to show that your employer fired you because you had engaged in one of these protected acts.
As with discrimination cases, employees who successfully prove that their employer fired them for retaliation may receive both compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Wrongful Termination for Breach of Contract
An employment contract is a legal document between the employer and employee that establishes the terms of employment and dismissal. Ideally, an employment contract is a written document, but oral agreements are still enforceable. Colorado even enforces implied employment contracts. (For instance, if an employer never reprimands anyone for being late, over time, employees believe that casual work hours are a term of their employment—thus, an implied contract. So if the employer suddenly fired someone for a late arrival, that could be a wrongful termination for breach of the implied contract.)
Employees with an employment contract may have strong grounds for bringing a wrongful termination claim against their employer. If you have a contract, then you’re no longer an at-will employee. Instead, you can only be terminated “for cause”—meaning your employer can only fire you if you have failed to fulfill the terms required by your contract.
If your employer has breached your contract, you may be entitled to compensatory damages. This financial payout is usually the sum you would have been paid under the contract, had you not been fired.
Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy
An employer may not fire an at-will employee when the termination violates public policy. In other words, the employer cannot fire someone for reasons most people would find ethically or morally repugnant or in violation of a policy found elsewhere in the law. For example, an employer cannot fire someone for exercising a legal right (such as serving on a jury, voting or filing a worker’s compensation claim), refusing to commit a crime, reporting illegal workplace conduct (whistleblowing), or engaging in lawful off-duty activities.
Hire A Wrongful Termination Attorney in Colorado
If you believe you have been wrongfully discharged in Colorado, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney. The experienced employment attorneys at Livelihood Law are happy to discuss your rights and options. Contact us here today.