In California, employees who are wrongfully terminated from their job may have grounds to file a lawsuit against their employer seeking compensation for damages.
Wrongful termination occurs when an individual has been fired from their job for reasons that violate state or federal law, such as discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
This is a comprehensive guide that explains how to file a wrongful termination lawsuit in California.
In California, employees are protected against wrongful termination by a number of different laws, including the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the California Labor Code, and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
To prove that you were wrongfully terminated, you will need to show that your employer violated one of these laws when they fired you.
What Reasons Are Considered Illegal for Firing an Employee in California?
There are a number of different illegal reasons that an employer might fire an employee in California. Some of the most common illegal reasons for firing an employee include:
Discrimination – You cannot be fired because of your race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions), gender identity, sexual orientation, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or military status.
Retaliation – You cannot be fired because you reported your employer for engaging in illegal activity, such as discrimination, harassment, or wage theft. You also cannot be fired because you participated in an investigation of your employer.
Breach of contract – If you have an employment contract that states that you can only be fired for cause, then your employer must have a valid reason for firing you.
In addition to the above, there are also a number of other reasons that might be considered illegal for firing an employee in California. If you are not sure whether the reason your employer gave for firing you is legal, you should speak with an experienced wrongful termination attorney.
What Doesn’t Count as Wrongful Termination in California?
Not every firing is considered to be wrongful termination. In some cases, an employer may have a valid reason for firing an employee, even if that reason is not specified in their contract. California is an at-will state, which means that an employer can generally fire an employee for any reason, as long as it is not an illegal reason.
Your employer is usually within their legal rights to terminate your employment without warning or explanation. Many employers choose to offer as little notice or explanation as possible for a termination, characterizing it instead as a layoff. This is done in order to avoid the risk of violating the law by providing a reason that later turns out to be discriminatory.
Each state has its own statute of limitations, or limited time period, in which an employee can file a wrongful termination lawsuit. In California, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit is 2 or 3 years from the date of the employee’s termination.
Below is a table with the general time limits for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit in California:
- Breach of Contract – 2 years
- Violation of Public Policy – 2 years
- California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – 3 years
- California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) – 3 years
- Whistleblowing protections – 3 years
It’s important to act quickly if you believe you have a case, as the longer you wait to file a lawsuit, the more difficult it will be to prove your case. In addition, if the statute of limitations has expired, you will not be able to file a lawsuit at all.
Why is there a Time Limit to File a Lawsuit?
The time limit, or statute of limitations, is designed to protect employers from having to defend themselves against employees who wait many years to file a lawsuit.
If an employee waits too long to file a lawsuit, it may be difficult or impossible to gather the necessary evidence to prove their case. In addition, witnesses may no longer remember what happened, or they may have moved away and be difficult to locate.
The statute of limitations is also designed to protect employers from being sued for wrongful termination long after the event occurred.
How to File a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit in California
As each case is different, different claims need to be filed with the appropriate government agency or the employee may be able to skip the claim process and move straight to filing a lawsuit against their employer.
A wrongful termination lawyer will be able to advise the employee on their rights and walk them through the process of filing a claim or lawsuit against their employer.
And, remember, there is a statute of limitations for filing a wrongful termination claim. You must adhere to this timeframe or you will forfeit any right to sue.
To file a wrongful termination complaint in California, an employee will need to follow a series of steps.
Step 1. Determine if you have a case.
To have a valid wrongful termination claim in California, you will need to show that your employer violated state or federal law when they fired you. This means you will have to gather evidence to prove that you were wrongfully terminated.
In order to give yourself the best chance at a successful claim, be sure to document everything related to your termination, including any conversations you had with your employer, performance reviews, and witness statements.
When documenting your case, be sure to include the date, time, and location of each incident, as well as what was said or done. In addition, if there were other people around when an incident occurred, be sure to get their names and contact information so they can serve as witnesses in your case.
This will help to create a timeline of events that can be used to prove your case.
Some examples of evidence that can be used to prove wrongful termination include:
- Text messages;
- Performance reviews;
- Your termination notice or layoff notice. (If you were fired in a face-to-face meeting, write down everything that was said during the meeting as soon after it occurred as possible. Include the time, date, and location of the meeting, as well as the names of any witnesses who were present.)
- Your employee handbook;
- Any official paperwork related to your employment, such as your offer letter, contract, or job description;
- Employee contracts;
- Pay stubs to help calculate lost wages;
- Any communication with coworkers about your termination;
- Recordings of conversations with your employer (if you have them);
- Accurate records of the hours you worked (if you are claiming unpaid overtime);
- and any additional information about your case that you think will be helpful.
Step 2. Speak with an employment attorney who is licensed to practice in California.
Once you have gathered all of the evidence you can, it is time to speak with an employment attorney who is licensed to practice in California.
The complexities of the law make it difficult to file a wrongful termination lawsuit on your own, and an experienced attorney will be familiar with the relevant laws and know how to build a strong case. It’s important to consult with an attorney who has previous experience with California wrongful termination cases as well as a track record of success.
In addition, most employment law firms work on a contingency basis, which means they do not get paid unless they win your case. This makes it easier for you to afford the legal help you need. Make sure to speak to your attorney about their fee agreement as well as any further clarification on costs before you decide to hire them.
Step 3. File a Formal Complaint Against your Employer
Depending on the circumstances of your specific case, your attorney will advise you on the best course of action to take. In many cases, this will involve filing a formal complaint against your employer with the appropriate state or federal agencies.
Since there are a few different laws that govern wrongful termination in California, the specific agency you file your complaint with will depend on the law that has been violated, such as the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). It could also mean filing a civil lawsuit in court.
Your employment attorney will be able to help you determine the best way to proceed based on the facts of your case.
Step 4. Prove That Your Termination Was Unlawful
Once you have filed your complaint, you will need to prove that your termination was unlawful.
This will involve presenting evidence to support your claim that you were wrongfully terminated. The type of evidence you will need to present will depend on the specific law that you are claiming was violated.
The process of proving that your termination was unlawful can be complicated. Generally speaking, wrongful termination cases in California follow the following steps:
The first step in any legal case is the discovery process. During this phase, both sides will collect evidence and take depositions (testimony under oath). This is usually done through the process of document production and witness interviews.
The discovery process can be lengthy, and it is not uncommon for it to take several months (or even longer) to complete.
Once the discovery process is complete, the next step is to attempt to resolve the case through dispute resolution. This is typically done through mediation, where both sides meet with a neutral third party (the mediator) to try to reach an agreement.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is usually arbitration, where both sides present their case to an arbitrator who will then make a binding decision.
If mediation and arbitration are unsuccessful, the next step is to go to trial. This is where both sides will present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury, who will then decide whether the employer is liable for wrongful termination.
The process of litigating a wrongful termination case can be long and expensive. It is important to keep in mind that even if you have a strong case, there is no guarantee that you will win.
Step 5. Seek Damages for Your Wrongful Termination
If you are successful in proving that your termination was unlawful, you may be entitled to damages. The type and amount of damages you are entitled to will depend on the specific facts of your case.
Generally speaking, there are two types of damages that may be available in a wrongful termination case:
If you have lost income as a result of your wrongful termination, you may be able to recover lost wages. These damages are calculated by looking at your past earnings and projected future earnings.
If you have lost benefits as a result of your wrongful termination, you may be able to recover those benefits. This could include health insurance, retirement benefits, or other types of benefits that you would have received if you had not been wrongfully terminated.
In some cases, you may also be able to recover medical expenses if you have incurred them as a result of your wrongful termination. For example, if you had to see a doctor or counselor due to stress caused by your termination, you may be able to recover those costs.
Cost of Job Search:
If you have incurred costs while searching for a new job, you may be able to recover those costs. This could include the cost of resume services, job search websites, or other similar expenses.
Emotional Distress Damages:
Emotional distress damages are designed to compensate the victim for the psychological harm that they have suffered as a result of their wrongful termination. This can include things like anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Emotional distress damages are typically awarded in cases where the victim has suffered some type of emotional or psychological harm as a result of their wrongful termination.
In some cases, you may also be able to recover your attorney’s fees. This is typically only available if the employer has acted in bad faith or if there is some other extenuating circumstance.
Punitive damages are designed to punish the employer for their wrongful conduct. They are typically only available in cases where the employer’s conduct was particularly egregious.
How Much Could Your Wrongful Termination Claim Be Settled For?
Since every case is different, it is difficult to estimate how much your wrongful termination claim may be worth. A wrongful termination claim in California can be settled for as little as $10,000 while more comprehensive cases can result in multi-million dollar verdicts.
As each wrongful termination case has its own individual circumstances, lost wages, and emotional distress, each claim needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Why Should You Hire an Attorney If You Have Been Wrongfully Terminated?
If you have been wrongfully terminated, you may be feeling a range of emotions including anger, frustration, and anxiety. While it is understandable to want to handle the situation on your own, it is important to understand that wrongful termination cases can be complex and challenging.
An experienced attorney will be able to navigate the complexities of the legal system and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. In addition, an attorney can help you understand the value of your claim and what you may be able to recover.
If you have been wrongfully terminated, do not hesitate to contact the experienced wrongful termination attorneys at Eldessouky Law. Our attorneys have successfully represented many employees in wrongful termination cases and are ready to fight for you. You can call our office at (714) 409-8991 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation.
Have You Been Wrongfully Terminated? Next steps.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated in California, it is important to take legal action as soon as possible. The first step is to contact an experienced wrongful termination attorney who can assess your case and help you understand your legal options.
At Eldessouky Law, our experienced team of employment attorneys has successfully represented many employees in wrongful termination cases. We are ready to fight for you.
We realize how difficult it is to file a wrongful termination claim. Our legal team has the expertise to assist you in constructing a strong case and obtaining the compensation you deserve. We have the experience, knowledge, and tools to efficiently and effectively handle your matter.
In addition, we are also experienced trial attorneys. This means that if your case goes to court, we will be ready to fight for you and get you the justice you deserve.
Lastly, we handle cases on a contingency basis, which means you don’t have to pay any upfront fees. We only get paid if we recover compensation for you.
Call our office today at (714) 409-8991 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.