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I was fired in California. How do I know if it was discrimination?

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Geoffrey C. Lyon - Employment Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Geoffrey C. Lyon

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Being fired as a result of discrimination is a form of wrongful termination. Of course, employers are allowed to fire their employees for misconduct, poor performance and the like. In fact, most employment contracts are “at will contracts.” This means that the employer can fire the employee at any time for any reason, as long as the reason is not an illegal reason.

This is where discrimination and other forms of wrongful termination come into play. The law protects employees from being fired for a medical condition, for being a member of a protected class and for reporting sexual harassment.

If You Were Fired After Taking Medical Leave

The law guarantees your right to take reasonable medical leave for certain qualifying conditions. This right would not mean anything if your employer was allowed to fire you for exercising it. However, this is exactly what happens in many cases. Employers want to avoid the cost of keeping someone on the payroll who has a medical condition requiring accommodations, and they often want to remove people who are willing to exercise their right to medical leave.

However, most employers know the laws about firing people for their medical conditions, so it is highly unlikely that they would fire you during your medical leave or immediately after you request accommodations.

A more common approach would be:

  • Your employer allows you to take leave without any complaint.
  • During the time of your leave and the months after your return, your employer creates a paper trail of criticisms and problems with your work.
  • Your employer uses these criticisms and problems as an excuse to fire you.

It takes an experienced, knowledgeable lawyer to uncover solid evidence of wrongful termination in these cases. If you never had any problems in your work history, then problems suddenly began emerging after your return from medical leave or after you have requested reasonable accommodations for a medical condition, it could be a sign of wrongful termination.

Firing Based On Membership In A Protected Class

Under federal law, it is illegal to fire someone based on their race, age, religious beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. Discriminatory wrongful terminations often come right after an employee has requested accommodations for medical conditions or after an employee has complained about mistreatment due to race, age, sexual orientation or related issue.

If you have taken leave, asked for reasonable accommodations for a medical condition or religious belief, or have complained about mistreatment and then were fired, you could have a case of wrongful termination.

Firing As A Form Of Sexual Harassment

One offshoot of sexual harassment is wrongful termination. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work and complained about it, only to be fired shortly thereafter, you could have a case.

Similarly, if a supervisor has made sexual advances that you refused, and then you were fired shortly after, it could be a case of wrongful termination.

Get Help With Your Case

The legal landscape regulating discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and wrongful termination is extremely complex and nuanced. Make sure you work with a legal professional you can trust to help you through the process and protect your interests.

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