Discrimination and Wrongful Termination
A handful of Federal laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender or disability. Depending upon your geographical area and type of employer, additional laws at the state and local level in California may further protect you from discrimination based on factors such as sexual orientation, political affiliation, or marital status. Below are some of the major laws protecting employees from discrimination:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects against employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (gender), or religion. This law applies to all phases of employment, including hiring, promotions and raises, transfers and assignments, discipline and termination.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects a qualified individual with a disability - one who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation - from employment discrimination.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals from age-based job discrimination. Forty years old is the threshold age to be covered under the Act. Reverse discrimination (favoring older workers at the expense of younger ones) has not been recognized by the courts as a violation of this law.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PDA requires employers to treat pregnancy on the same level as other medical conditions in regards to leave policies, health insurance, etc.
In addition to these laws, the courts have recognized a cause of action for sexual harassment. For more information on this topic, see our sexual harassment page.
California is an "at will" employment state. At will employment means that an employee may be fired at will, for a good reason, a bad reason, or for no reason at all. Likewise, an employee is entitled to quit at any time without providing a reason. There are, however, several limitations on this broad declaration of at will employment.
If a person is hired pursuant to an oral or written contract, then the terms of that contract will govern termination, sometimes providing that termination will be only "for cause" or "for good cause" or for other stated reasons. Language in an employee handbook is often enough to change employment status from at will to contract-based. For instance, a statement in a handbook like "as long as you follow the rules and do your job well, you can expect a long and rewarding career with our company" may create a legitimate expectation in the employee that termination will only be based on poor performance or misconduct. Finally, public employees are not at will employees and must be provided with notice and a hearing before being terminated. Grounds for terminating a public employee differ based upon which agency is the hiring authority.
Even in at will employment an employee may not be terminated for an illegal reason. Examples of illegal reasons include discrimination against a member of a protected class as described above, or termination in retaliation for filing a complaint or reporting a violation of safety laws (whistleblowing).
If you believe you have been discriminated against or wrongfully terminated, you should seek the advice of an experienced labor and employment law attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Carter Law Firm today for immediate assistance.