Do I Have A Case For Wrongful Termination?
One of the most common questions a wrongful termination lawyer hears is, “Do I have a case?” The answer to this question always comes down to whether or not the employer acted illegally when the employee was terminated. This is worth repeating. The only way an employee will have a valid claim for wrongful termination is if it was illegal for the employer to fire her.
At-Will Employment Means Most Firings Are Legal
In Arizona, the vast majority of jobs fall under the category of “at-will” employment, which means the employee is free to quit at any time and for any reason, and the employer is allowed to fire the employee at any time and for any reason. This is also worth repeating. Employees can be fired at any time for any reason. To give a few examples, an employee can be fired because he criticized his boss. He can be fired for not following directions. He can be fired because his supervisor did not like the color of his shoes. He can be fired because he didn’t kiss-up to the boss or play office politics well enough. His firing might be unfair, unreasonable, stupid and entirely unjustified, but the employer is still allowed to do it.
Exceptions to the At-Will Employment Rule Exist
There are, however, a few exceptions to this general rule, and if an employee falls into one of these exceptions, then she might have a case for wrongful termination. Specifically, an employee has been wrongfully or illegally terminated: (1) when the decision to fire the employee was made on the basis of illegal discrimination; or (2) when the employee was fired as retaliation for exercising legal rights or reporting illegal or dangerous activity.
Illegal Discrimination Justifies a Wrongful Termination Case
On the subject of discrimination, it is important to remember that not all discrimination is illegal. For example, employers use job applications, resumés, interviews, background checks, and similar tools to help them learn about potential employees, and judge which ones are qualified for the position. If the job requires a college degree, and one of the applicants does not have the required degree, he will be removed from the pool of potential employees. This is a type of discrimination, and is perfectly legal. However, employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. If an employee loses her job, doesn’t get hired, loses out on a promotion, or otherwise is discriminated against because of her race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age, then illegal discrimination has taken place.
Retaliation is Illegal and Justifies a Wrongful Termination Case
Retaliation is also a valid basis for a wrongful termination claim. For example, if an employee is fired in retaliation for taking medical leave, making a worker’s compensation claim, filing a charge of discrimination, or reporting other illegal or dangerous activities within the company, then he was wrongfully terminated.
The bottom line is that most employees who get fired have not been wrongfully terminated. Even when the employer is unfair, displays favoritism, or seems completely random in the decision of who gets fired, and even if office politics comes into play, these are not enough, by themselves, to amount to wrongful termination. However, if illegal discrimination or retaliation were the true motive for the employee getting fired, then yes, the fired employee does have a case.
Rex A. Christensen practices employment discrimination law in Gilbert, Arizona. He can be reached at (480) 378-2400.
This article does not constitute, and should not be considered, legal advice, and you should consult with an attorney regarding your own specific legal matters. The existence of this article or your reading of it does not create an attorney-client relationship. Neither the Christensen Law Firm nor any of its attorneys may represent you without first establishing that doing so will not create a conflict of interest. Rex A. Christensen is licensed to practice law in Arizona only.