Losing your job can be hard and confusing. In 2022 alone, the total number of layoffs and discharges in the US reached 17.6 million. You may be wondering: can you sue for being fired? In this article, we’ll focus on what to do if you’ve been illegally dismissed. We’ll guide you on how to identify if you have grounds for suing for wrongful termination, how to file a lawsuit, and what to expect during the trial. So, let’s get started!

Key Facts: Suing for Wrongful Termination

  • You can sue a company for firing you if the dismissal was due to discrimination, breach of contract, retaliation, and employer's public policy violation.
  • The organizations that review wrongful termination are the EEOC, OSHA, and the Department of Labor.
  • The statute of limitations for wrongful dismissal is 180 days.
  • Settlements in suing for wrongful termination is around $37,000.

How to Identify a Wrongful Termination Case?

Let’s begin by finding out if your job loss was unfair.

A severance agreement is a legal contract between an employer and an employee that outlines the termination terms. The agreement must provide for “compensation”. That is something of value beyond what the employee is already entitled to, such as a lump sum payment or extra benefits.

A typical severance agreement includes

  • Date of termination.
  • Severance pay (lump sum or periodic payments).
  • General release. The clause says the employee can't make any claims against the employer for discrimination. This applies to federal, state, and local laws.

For a waiver in a severance agreement to be valid, it must meet certain criteria:

  • The employee must knowingly and voluntarily agree to the waiver.
  • The waiver must offer something of value that goes beyond the employee's existing rights.
  • It must follow state and federal laws.

In the case of group dismissals, employers should provide information about the selection process. This includes information about:

  • "decision-making unit"
  • factors that determine eligibility for dismissal
  • job titles
  • age of the individuals affected

If the employer violates these conditions, it may be a sign of wrongful termination. Let’s take a closer look.

 

What is the Wrongful Termination of Employment?

suing for wrongful termination how to recognize

Wrongful termination happens when an employer fires an employee against the contract, laws, or policy.

It is important to note that most employment contracts in the US are at-will. This means that either the employer or the employee may stop the employment relationship at any time. But at-will employment is subject to specific exceptions that protect employees from wrongful termination.

 

Grounds for Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Wrongful termination examples include:

  • Discrimination
  • Violation of the employment contract
  • Retaliation
  • Public policy violation

Each of these points has its legal basis. Let’s analyze it in more detail.

 

Discrimination

It is illegal to discharge an employee based on discriminatory factors:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Disability

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from termination due to discrimination. This applies regardless of whether they have an employment contract or not. More than 60% of all EEOC claims comply with this act.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals over the age of 40 from discrimination based on age. But it doesn’t apply to elected officials, members of the military, or non-U.S. citizens working outside the United States.

According to the Older Workers’ Benefits Protection Act (OWBPA), a waiver of an age discrimination claim must meet extra criteria:

  • Clear and understandable writing.
  • Specific reference to rights or claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
  • Advice to consult an attorney.
  • At least 21 days to review the offer and 7 days to revoke after signing.

Being dismissed due to mental or physical disability is also considered discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as an individual who

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities.
  • Has a history or record of such impairments.

Under the ADA, employers cannot fire an employee because of their disability. It is also prohibited to dismiss because of the employer’s unwillingness to provide the necessary accommodations (if they do not create undue hardship on the business).

Dismissal due to pregnancy and sexual orientation is also considered discrimination.

 

Breach of Employment Contract

Breach of contract occurs when one party fails to fulfill the terms agreed upon in the agreement. Thus, it is illegal to dismiss an employee in a manner that contradicts these conditions.

Examples include dismissal without an agreed notice period and without following the disciplinary procedure set out in the contract.

 

Retaliation

Unlawful retaliatory dismissal occurs when an employer fires or harasses an employee for engaging in legally protected activities.

These may include:
01

Filing a complaint or legal action

If an employee files a lawsuit alleging that the employer is engaging in illegal activities or violating laws.
02

Whistleblowing

If an employee reports illegal or unethical actions by an employer to the authorities.
03

Participation in an investigation

If an employee cooperates in an investigation of an employer's activities.

This also includes asserting rights under labor law. For example:

  • taking family or medical leave;
  • requesting an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act;
  • asking for overtime pay.

When an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising these rights, it is wrongful dismissal. Even if the employee gives up these in the severance agreement, they can still file a claim with the EEOC. So they have the right to challenge discrimination without retaliation.

 

Public Policy Violations

This occurs when an employer dismisses an employee for reasons that are contrary to the established public policy of the state or nation. Such policies often stem from laws, court precedents, and government regulations.

Common examples of public policy violations include:

  • Termination for refusing to engage in illegal activities such as fraud or discrimination.
  • Dismissal of an employee for exercising rights guaranteed by law, such as voting, jury duty, family or medical leave.
  • Firing for reporting illegal or unethical actions of the employer.

An employee dismissed in violation of public policy may file a lawsuit for wrongful termination. The claim must prove that this case was directly related to the employee’s protected activity or refusal to violate the law.

 

Basic Laws for Suing for Being Fired

suing for wrongful termination laws

Let’s summarize the laws under which you can file a lawsuit against your employer.

Law Jurisdiction Description
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Federal Prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act Federal Protects employees over the age of 40 from age-based discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Federal Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.
State-Specific Employment Laws State Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), New York State Human Rights Law, Texas Labor Code Chapter 21, Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, Illinois Human Rights Act
Fair Labor Standards Act Federal Establishes minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, recordkeeping, and child labor standards.
Public Policy Violations State/Federal Protects employees from termination for reasons that violate established public policy, like refusing to perform illegal acts.
legal read

How to Sue for Wrongful Termination?

Now we’ll delve into suing for wrongful termination. This includes reporting the unfair dismissal and filing a lawsuit. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

suing for wrongful termination lawsuit

 

How to Report a Company for Unfair Dismissal

Start by reporting your dismissal to the relevant agency. You need to contact:

You can also report wrongful termination to your local Wage and Hour office.

 

How to File Wrongful Termination

Here is detailed information on how to sue a company for wrongful termination with the EEOC, OSHA, and the Department of Labor (DOL).

suing for wrongful termination eeoc osha dol

 

EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

To file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, you must

  • Consider that your case about discrimination at work because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 years or older), disability, or genetic information.
  • Submit a signed statement that the employer has committed employment discrimination.
  • Ask the EEOC to take corrective action.

Note that, you must file a discrimination charge with the EEOC before you can submit a workplace claim against your employer. You can fill out this through the agency’s public portal after an online request and an interview with their staff.

 

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

When suing for wrongful termination with OSHA, you must

  • Provide information to determine the severity of the hazard, including the number of workers exposed, the nature and frequency of exposure, training received on unsafe conditions, and any attempts to correct the problem.
  • File a complaint within a certain period (30 to 180 days), depending on the law under which the retaliatory action is being taken.

OSHA accepts complaints by mail, phone, in person, or through an online form on its website.

 

DOL (Department of Labor)

To file a complaint with the DOL, you must

  • Gather the necessary information to file a complaint. Even if third-party complainants lack information, giving more details will help solve the issue.
  • Decide how to file a complaint. You can submit it online or call the number provided.

Work with the DOL as they will help answer questions and determine if an investigation is the best course of action.

 

How to Prove Wrongful Termination

To prove the unlawfulness of a dismissal, it is important to show that the reason for the dismissal was unfair. This process usually consists of several key steps.

suing for wrongful termination how to prove

 

Gather evidence

You need to collect:

  • employment contract (or other proof of employment)
  • performance appraisals
  • personal files
  • pay stubs
  • emails
  • notices of dismissal.

If other subordinates were wrongly fired, ask them for proof too.

Talk to colleagues

Contact your former coworkers. Document any discriminatory behavior, such as jokes about race or age, sexual harassment, or offensive emails. This may be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.

 

Describe your termination in detail

Keep detailed records of the events leading up to the termination. This should include a timeline, notes about your employment and performance evaluations, and details about the “decision-making unit” in your dismissal.

The commission usually reviews your complaint. They conduct an investigation, which includes interviewing involved parties. They also offer mediation services to help resolve wrongful dismissal cases without going to court. This involves negotiations between you and your employer with the help of a third-party mediator.

If your case is a valid one and you decide not to use a mediator, it is advisable to consult with attorneys for wrongful termination. They can tell you about your options and the legal process.

lawyers cost

Compensation at Suing for Wrongful Termination

Now let’s find out what kind of compensation you can expect if your claim succeeds.

 

What Damages Can You Get from Suing for Wrongful Termination?

Here are some common types of damages:
01

Lost wages and benefits

The calculation includes the adjusted value of wages and benefits. It covers the period from the wrongful dismissal to the judgment date. It also provides expected future earnings.
02

Non-pecuniary damage

This includes compensation for emotional distress/mental suffering and harm to professional reputation.
03

Attorney's fees and court costs

Plaintiffs who win a case can recover attorney's fees and other court costs from the employer.
04

Penalties

Courts award them besides other types of damages to punish serious offenses.

It is worth noting that compensation for emotional distress also requires proof. You will need to collect doctor’s notes, witness statements, etc.

 

What is the Most You Can Sue for Wrongful Termination?

Settlements in suing for wrongful termination range between $5,000 and $80,000, although the exact amount can vary.

Average compensation is around $37,200, with many cases falling in this range​​​​​​​​​​. But, the final amount depends on many factors, including the nature of the wrongful termination, the financial impact on the employee, and the case’s unique circumstances.

EEOC Wrongful Termination

suing for wrongful termination filling

In 2022, the EEOC received 73,485 new discrimination charges, showing an almost 20% increase compared to the previous year. Wrongful termination was the most frequent issue among these appeals, accounting for 63.7% of all claims filed. But let’s see what you should expect if you complain to this agency.

 

What are the Chances of Winning an EEOC Case?

If the EEOC has investigated your case and found it to be a labor law violation, the success rate in court is 96%. However the organization handles 91,7% of claims out of court. So, only 8.3% went to trial.

suing for wrongful termination eeoc settlements

 

What is the Average Payout for EEOC Claims?

In 2022, the EEOC resolved 96 employment discrimination lawsuits. They obtained under $40 million in monetary relief for 1,461 individuals. The average payout is over $27,000.

But the agency sets limits on how much a business can compensate a victim depending on its size:

  • An employer with 15-100 employees - $50,000.
  • An employer with 101-200 employees - $100,000.
  • An employer with 201-500 employees - $200,000.
  • An employer with more than 500 employees - $300,000.

The goal of the EEOC is to return the victim to an environment as if they had never been discriminated against. So, if a person experiences an unlawful termination, the organization demands compensation for downtime, and stress, and even an offer to find a new job for them.

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Wrongful Termination Cases Won

These are examples of employees winning wrongfully fired lawsuits.

Case Verdict Key Legal Principle
Ortiz v. Chipotle $8 million Wrongful termination with retaliation and pregnancy discrimination.
EEOC v. Home Depot $100,000 Gender discrimination and retaliation leading to wrongful discharge.
EEOC v. Radio Shack $187,706 Age discrimination and retaliation.
Liggins v. Archdiocese of Los Angeles $3.6 million Discriminatory termination based on pregnancy.
EEOC v. Honeybaked Ham $370,000 Sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
Hoyt v. Target Stores $200,000 Wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Sample v. City of Sheridan $33,588 Age discrimination, and retaliation.
01

Ortiz v. Chipotle

A former Chipotle manager in California won about $8 million in a wrongful termination suit. The court determined that Chipotle fired the manager. The company claimed she stole $636, but the real reason was retaliation. The manager had made workers' compensation claims and was pregnant. It's illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
02

EEOC v. Home Depot

In this case, an employee filed gender discrimination charges against Home Depot. After settling these charges, Home Depot later fired her, leading to a belief of retaliation for the previous suit. The EEOC sued Home Depot for wrongful discharge and retaliation, resulting in Home Depot settling the case for $100,000​​.
03

EEOC v. Radio Shack

David Nelson, who worked for Radio Shack for 25 years, was fired after complaining of age discrimination. The EEOC sued Radio Shack, leading to a jury awarding Nelson $187,706 in back pay for his retaliation claim​​.
04

Liggins v. Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Kourtney Liggins sued the Archdiocese for wrongful termination related to her pregnancy. The court found in favor of Liggins, ruling that her termination was discriminatory based on her pregnancy.
05

EEOC v. Honeybaked Ham

After complaints of sexual harassment and wrongful termination by a regional manager, the EEOC sued Honeybaked Ham. The company paid $370,000 in damages to the victims​​.
06

Hoyt v. Target Stores

Susan Hoyt sued Target for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. A jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages and $35,000 in punitive damages​​.
07

Sample v. City of Sheridan

Ray Sample, a former sheriff, sued the city for age discrimination and retaliation. The city eventually settled with Sample, paying $33,588 in lost wages and $5,000 in compensatory damages​​.

Summary

If your employer discriminated, retaliated, or did any illegal things that led to your dismissal, you should consider suing for wrongful termination. To assert your rights and get compensation for unfair loss of employment, this step is key.

But remember, resolving these cases can be challenging, and less than 10% of all claims go to trial. You need to collect clear evidence and know which laws to use. So, to find out if you definitely have this case, consult a wrongful termination lawyer. Or you can contact us so that we can find professional for you.

Have any wrongful termination question?

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Are wrongful termination settlements taxable?

Yes, compensation for wrongful dismissal is taxable. Damages received for economic losses, such as lost wages, are not excluded from gross income. Discrimination claims are also not excludable under IRC Section 104(a)(2).

How long do you have to sue for wrongful termination?

In general, the statute of limitations provides for 2-3 years for filing a wrongful termination in court. However, if you want to file a claim for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, you have only 180 days.

What are the odds of winning a wrongful termination lawsuit?

More than 90% of complaints don’t go to court and result in a settlement. But the chance of winning a court case is about 62.5%. It depends on the level of legal representation and the individual circumstances of the case.

Can you sue for wrongful termination in an at-will state?

Yes, if you are sure that it was illegal or related to discrimination or retaliation.

William Green lawyer
William Green
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