When Can You Sue an Employer for Wrongful Termination?

There is never a good time to be fired from a job. It may be possible that you saw it coming – for example, if you were accused of performing below company expectations. But in some cases, termination can come from out of the blue and for no stated reason.


California is known as an “at-will” state. At-will is typically the most common form of employment. It means that an employer can legally fire you at any given time for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal (state and federal statutes provide lists of reasons that are considered illegal). This is not completely bad news though, because as an employee, you are free to quit your job at any time without worrying that you are breaking a contract or agreement. At-will employment gives you the freedom to find a new job quickly, while also allowing employers to adapt quickly so they can search for new employees without causing a gap in business operations. 


As mentioned, there are reasons for termination that are prohibited by state and federal laws in spite of at-will employment; these are considered “wrongful termination.” 

Discriminatory Reasons 

In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers that have five or more employees from discriminating against employees on the basis of their: 


  • Age 
  • Race, color, etc. 
  • Religion
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Pregnancy 
  • Medical condition
  • Marital status
  • Sex, gender, gender identity, or gender expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Military or veteran status 


If you believe you have been fired for any of these reasons, you may be entitled to sue your employer for employment discrimination. For more information regarding employment discrimination, click here


Note that an employer won’t come out and tell you that they are firing you for one of these reasons.  They will instead assert a legal reason, such as poor performance, when their real (unstated) reason is one of these prohibited ones.  Employers are good at lying about why they are terminating their employees. If you feel that your employer made up a fake reason for your termination – or even is in the process of setting one up – contact us.  It’s our job to spot these lies and hold employers accountable!


In spite of at-will employment, you can sue your employer for terminating your employment because you’ve engaged in protected “whistleblowing” activities. For example, you are protected if you have reported sexual harassment or discrimination in the office, questioned your employer’s practices or filed a report concerning wage and hour violations, or reported violations of safety laws and procedures in the workplace. 


If you are fired and under contract, it is illegal to be terminated if the employer’s reason violates the terms of the agreement. If the contract specifies that a worker can be terminated for a specific list of reasons, firing an employee outside of that list would be a violation of the employment contract. This includes oral contracts that a court may find legally binding, following the same protocol as per a written contract violation. 


If you’re not sure whether you can sue your employer for wrongful termination, you should consider contacting the employment law experts at the Carter Law Firm. We’ve successfully filed wrongful termination claims on behalf of many of our clients, helping them get the compensation they deserve. We will review your potential claim free of charge.  Contact us by filling out the confidential form below.




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