Category Archives: Wrongful Termination

An Employee Cannot Be Fired For Refusing to Perform an Illegal Activity in the Workplace

Unfortunately, our firm frequently receives calls from potential clients telling us that they have been fired for refusing to take part in an illegal and unethical activity. Under California and Federal law, it is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against an employee, whether it be demotion, deduction in pay, or termination, for refusing to participate in a violation of law. If your employer has retaliated against you for refusing to take part in violating the law, contact a whistleblower lawyer immediately.

Zulfer v. Playboy Enterprises Inc.

Here is a classic whistleblower case to come out of the 2014 federal court docket. Plaintiff had been working as an executive in Playboy’s accounting department for roughly thirty years. During her employment, the CFO asked plaintiff to accrue over $1 million dollars in executive bonuses on the company ledger. However, she refused to do so without Board approval as it would violate federal law, specifically a law under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Again, the CFO asked the plaintiff to do this, but she refused again. Several months later, Playboy eliminated plaintiff’s position. She continued to work for Playboy though in another position, but was eventually terminated soon after her position was eliminated.

Playboy argued that plaintiff’s termination was not based on her refusing to take part in what she alleged as a violation of law. Rather, Playboy contended that the decision to terminate plaintiff was based on valid business reasons. The jury was not convinced by defendant’s arguments, and unanimously found in favor of the plaintiff. Jury awarded a gross verdict of $6 million to plaintiff finding that Playboy retaliated against the plaintiff for refusing to take part in the violation of Sarbanes Oxley.

Contact a Whistleblower Attorney if You Have Been Retaliated Against

Zulfer v. Playboy is a classic example of what an employer should not if an employee refuses to take part in an illegal activity. What Playboy did here was unlawful. It is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee for refusing to take part in a violation of law. If you feel that your employer has taken adverse action against you, whether it be a deduction in pay, demotion, or termination, for refusing to violate the law, then contact an whistleblower lawyer immediately.

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Employment Lawyer For Wrongful Termination

It always amazes us the things employers tell their employees. For example, we always get calls from employees who say their boss told them that they can fire them for any reason at any time because they are an at-will employee. This is not entirely true. In California, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason unless that reason violates public policy. Under California law, the public policy position supersedes over the at-will employment doctrine. You are probably wondering, “What is this public policy thing?” Basically, a wrongful termination in violation of a public policy occurs if an employer terminates an employee due to gender, race, national origin, family or medical leave, political activity, or for reporting unsafe working conditions. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some examples of wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

An Employer Cannot Fire An Employee For Reporting Unsafe Working Conditions

In Webb v. Ramos Oil Company, plaintiff was a truck driver who transported fuel for defendant employer. Plaintiff had been an employee for defendant for thirteen years. One day, while plaintiff was transporting fuel, the area in which he was driving was experiencing severe storm and heavy wind, as well as flooding from heavy rain. During his route, plaintiff’s truck would rock back and forth and almost tip over. In addition, plaintiff witnessed other cars strugging on the road, downed power lines, and flying debris. While on route, he called his employer and asked if he could postpone his delivery due to the dangerous driving conditions but his employer refused. When he was finally done with his route, he decided to join some friends for a drink. A few hours a later, he was called back to work, but said no because he had drank a few alcoholic beverages and because it was still way to dangerous to drive a truck transporting fuel. Plaintiff was fired a couple days later. Luckily, Plaintiff retained an employment lawyer.

The Defendant argued that Plaintiff basically made all of this up so he would not have to perform his job duties that day. Clearly, the jury did not buy this defense and awarded Plaintiff over $6 million dollars in economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.

Call A Lawyer If You Have Been Wrongfully Terminated

At the end of the day, this case shows that employers are still being held accountable for breaking the law and violating an employee’s rights. People in California are fired everyday, and most of the time, the person has no idea whether what just happened was lawful. If you feel like your termination was wrongful or there was something not quite right about it, thus it cannot hurt to call an employment lawyer. Most employment lawyers do a free consultation, and some will even tell you whether or not they think you have a case. Call an employment lawyer immediately if you feel you have been wrongfully terminated!

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Retaliation & Wrongful Termination in the Aerospace Industry

Many employees are retaliated against in the workplace. But not all retaliation or terminations are illegal.  This article discussed the case of Green v. Ralee Engineering Company. This case analyzes whether a company may fire an employee who complains about the failure to follow quality inspection protocols. In this case, the company manufactured airplane parts that were critical in keeping the plane safe.

Facts of the Wrongful Termination Case

In the mid 1990’s Ralee Engineering Company was sued by a former employee, Richard Green.  While employed, Mr. Green was a Quality Assurance Inspector. His duties were to inspect Ralee’s manufactured fuselage and wing components for military and civilian aircraft. Ralee supplied those parts to major airline assembly companies such as Boeing and to major war plane assembly companies such as Northrop.

Beginning in 1990, Mr. Green allegedly noticed that Ralee was shipping some airplane parts even though, according to him, they failed the inspections his team performed. On several occasions over the next two years, Mr. Green objected to Ralee’s practice to supervisory and management personnel and to the company president. He made all of his complaints internally, and at no time did he complain to outside government sources.

Despite his complaints, Ralee continued to ship allegedly defective parts to Boeing. In an effort to provide proof of the ongoing practice, plaintiff began photocopying the inspection reports, including some reports concerning parts destined for Boeing. In March 1991, Ralee shut down its night shift, citing a downturn in orders for the parts it produced. Ralee then fired Mr. Green along with other night shift employees.

Mr. Green filed a timely wrongful termination lawsuit against defendant. His attorney alleged Ralee terminated him in retaliation for his complaints about its inspection practices. His lawyer also argued that his complaints served a broad public policy favoring aviation safety, entitling him to tort damages even though he was an at-will employee.

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New CA Employment Law – Protecting Victims of Violent Crimes

Governor Brown signed into law SB 288 this year. The bill adds Section 230.5 to the California Labor Code. The new law makes it illegal for employers to fire employees who are victims of violent crimes who take time off to attend court proceedings.

The offenses include all of the following:
  • (A) Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
  • (B) Felony child abuse likely to produce great bodily harm or a death
  • (C) Assault resulting in the death of a child under eight years of age
  • (D) Felony domestic violence
  • (E) Felony physical abuse of an elder or dependent adult
  • (F) Felony stalking
  • (G) Solicitation for murder
  • (H) A serious felony
  • (I) Hit-and-run causing death or injury
  • (J) Felony driving under the influence causing injury
  • (K) Sexual assault (there are many different types contemplated by this statute)

 

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Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy – California Law

Wrongful Termination Attorney Public Policy Lawyer CaliforniaGetting fired sucks. Despite the agony most people feel after being terminated, chances are the dismissal was completely legal. After all, California is an at-will state. But what if your gut tells you that your firing was illegal? Should you contact an attorney? Keep reading and I’ll let you know what constitutes wrongful termination in California.

Most employees in California are classified as “at-will” employees. At-will employment is a legal doctrine where either party can immediately terminate the employment relationship at any time with or without any advance warning, and with no subsequent liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term. Employers often believe that they can fire an at-will employee at any time for any reason. This is false in California. A company can fire an employee for any reason except for a reason that violates public policy.

What Violates Public Policy?

This public policy position in California overrides the at-will employment principle. Although employment contracts are generally terminable at will (See California Labor Code § 2922), California courts recognize a narrow exception to this rule. An employer’s blanket authority to discharge an at-will employee may be limited by statute or by considerations of public policy. Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (1980) 27 C3d 167. While an at-will employee may be terminated for no reason, or for an arbitrary or irrational reason, there can be no right to terminate for an unlawful reason or a purpose that contravenes fundamental public policy.

But this begs the question, what does “public policy” mean? California courts have been interpreting this ever since the Tameny decision came down. If you believe your boss has fired, discharged, or laid you off for any of the below reasons, contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible:

  • Gender discrimination – Pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, and other forms of gender discrimination are clear violations of public policy
  • Unsafe workplace – Firing an employee for protesting unsafe working conditions violates public policy
  • Political activity – Discharging an employee because of his political activity, particularly political speech, is a violation of fundamental public policy
  • Race, color, national origin, or ethnic origin discrimination – Terminating an employee because he is black, brown, asian, or some other qualifying characteristic is against public policy
  • Family or medical leave discrimination – Terminating an employee because he or she took family or medical leave violates public policy
  • Prompt payment of earned wages – Failing to pay wages promptly is a violation of fundamental public policy
  • Whistle-blowing – Terminating employees for disclosing an employer’s violation of state or federal regulations to a governmental agency violates public policy
  • Testifying at a hearing – Discharge based on an employee’s taking time off (after reasonable notice to the employer) to appear in court as a witness violates public policy

There are many more reasons that qualify as wrongful discharge. Note that there is no “mean” public policy. Nor is there a public policy for jerk bosses, arrogant bosses, or critical bosses. That means than a boss can be mean, rude, and unbearable, but not violate public policy.

So how do you know if your boss’ conduct violates one of these public policy principles? Call an experienced lawyer today. If you would like to know whether your boss has wrongfully terminated you, contact an attorney for a free consultation.

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Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at BRobertsonLaw.com or call his office at 949.667.3025.

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Filed under Discharge & Layoffs, Retaliation, Whistleblower Protection, Wrongful Termination