How To Prove A Wrongful Termination Claim in California
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How To Prove A Wrongful Termination Claim in California

How To Prove A Wrongful Termination Claim in California

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Wrongful termination can have a major impact on your life, causing you to lose your livelihood and suffer emotional trauma. If you believe your employer wrongfully terminated you, you have the right to file a claim against them for violating employment law and receive compensation for your damages.

However, proving a wrongful termination claim in California can be complex, requiring you to provide evidence that your employer broke state or federal laws. Understanding wrongful termination claims, evidence you can use to support your claim, and working with an experienced lawyer for your wrongful termination case can help you receive the restitution you deserve.

What is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination is when an employee is laid off or fired from their job in a way that violates applicable state or federal employment laws. In California, three categories of laws and regulations protect employees against wrongful termination, including sections of the California Labor Code, state-level employee protection acts, and federal laws.

California Labor Code Protections

The California Labor Code (CLC) prohibits employers from wrongfully terminating employees. The state’s statutes offer the following protections:

  • CLC Section 98.6: Prohibits discrimination and retaliation against employees filing complaints or testifying against their employers over wage and hour violations.
  • CLC Section 230: Prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for taking time off, serving jury duty, or complying with judicial proceedings after becoming the victim of a crime.
  • CLC Section 1101: Prohibits employers from creating workplace rules or policies that would prevent employees from participating in politics, becoming candidates for public office, or controlling an employee’s political affiliations.
  • CLC Section 1102.5: Prohibits employers from retaliation against whistleblowing employees reporting an employer to law enforcement.

California and Federal Employee Protection Acts

In addition to state employment laws, several state and federal acts protect employees against forms of discrimination and retaliation. These protections include:

Examples of Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination cases can involve multiple situations in which an employer fires an employee under a protected circumstance. Some of the most common wrongful termination cases in California involve the following situations:

  • An employee fired for their political affiliations outside of work
  • An employee terminated for being a whistleblower against their employer
  • An employee laid off for filing a workers’ compensation claim following injury or illness due to their job
  • An employee fired for using the time off that California employee leave laws entitle them to use, such as California Paid Family Leave (PFL)
  • An employee who was terminated in violation of local or state public policy
  • An employee fired in a mass layoff or factory closure without a 60-day notice, resulting in a violation of the California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act

What is the Statute of Limitations on a Wrongful Termination Claim in California?

A statute of limitations for wrongful termination is the time limit after which you won’t be able to file a claim or sue the responsible party. In California, the wrongful termination statute of limitations depends on the cause of your firing and the surrounding circumstances.

  • Breaches of implied contract: According to the California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP 339), if you were wrongfully terminated and did not have a formal employment contract, the statute of limitations for wrongful termination is two years.
  • Terminations violating public policy: If you were terminated for fulfilling legal duties, such as jury duty, exercising a legal right, reporting a legal violation, or refusing to commit an unlawful act, your termination violated public policy. CCP 335.1 states this type of wrongful termination has a statute of limitations of two years.
  • Retaliation against employees using FEHA rights: You have three years from the day of your terminations to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Department. You will receive a right-to-sue letter if the CRD investigation substantiates your complaint. You have one year to sue for wrongful termination after receiving this letter.
  • WARN Act violations: Section 338 of the CCP states you have three years to initiate a wrongful termination lawsuit if you were terminated in a mass layoff or factory closure without the legally required 60-day notice.
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act violations: If your employer violates your rights under CCP 1102.5 LAB and fires you after speaking out about securities fraud, you have 180 days to file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL). Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the DOL must respond to your complaint within 180 days. If they do not, you have four years to file a lawsuit.

What Do You Need to Prove Wrongful Termination in California?

In a wrongful termination case, the burden of proof lies with the employee. This means you must gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate your firing was unlawful and that you have suffered damages from the wrongful termination.

Like most other states, California is an “at-will” employment state, meaning employers are generally not required to have a legal basis for terminating an employee. The only exception to this principle is when the firing was due to discriminatory or other unlawful reasons.

For these reasons, you must gather sufficient evidence to meet a proof standard called preponderance to prove your wrongful termination case in California. A claimant can prove their case by preponderance by showing it is more likely the employer has broken the law than not.

Evidence You Will Need

To prove your case successfully, you can demonstrate your employer’s wrongdoing by collecting evidence of illegal discrimination. This can include written evidence, recorded statements, or proof of different treatment compared to other employees.

However, direct evidence is not always available in wrongful termination cases. Many wrongful termination claims are based on less objective evidence, such as:

  • Evidence of the timing of events, such as a termination following a complaint
  • Witness statements of discriminatory or unlawful actions
  • Evidence showing exclusionary patterns, such as the employer is excluding or replacing individuals from a protected class
  • Employment records, such as contracts, handbooks, policies, and performance reviews
  • Any relevant documentation, such as emails, letters, text messages, photos, video footage, evidence of past complaints, or witness statements indicating discriminatory behavior

If you feel you are being mistreated at work or have suffered a recent termination, record all events and situations that could be relevant to your case. Keep records of interactions with your employer, including the precise dates, times, and contents of conversations with management or other employees. You can also keep a journal of your psychological struggles, such as fear, shame, and anxiety, to prove the non-economic impact the wrongful termination has on your life.

Proving your case can help you win a wrongful termination settlement that includes compensation for lost and future wages and emotional distress you’ve suffered since your firing.

When to Contact a Wrongful Termination Lawyer?

If you feel your employer is mistreating you or were wrongfully terminated, contact an attorney as soon as possible. A wrongful termination lawyer can provide legal advice for your case and help you understand your rights under employment laws and regulations.

Wrongful termination cases are challenging and arduous. Experienced legal counsel can help you review your claim and analyze the circumstances surrounding your termination. They can also help you build your case, collect evidence, and contact witnesses and other parties on your behalf.

By working with a knowledgeable attorney, you can provide the necessary proof for your wrongful termination claim. This will ensure you receive a settlement to help you rebuild your life and hold your former employer responsible for their illegal behavior.

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