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California Employment Discrimination Blog

Hospital employee given chance to show disability bias at trial

California's 6th District Appellate Court recently remanded a case of disability discrimination back to the trial court level. The employee, who argues her firing was due to her struggles with PTSD and severe depression, now has a chance to have the motives of her firing examined by a trial court. 

This case presents several issues commonly encountered by wrongfully terminated employees, including mixed motives for firing and an employer's approach to mental health.

What does it mean to be an at-will employee in California?

Whether they like it or not, most people in California need to work to earn an income to support themselves and their families. Although these people as employees have to come to work each day they are scheduled, and follow the internal rules of the company, most do not have a contract stating that they are hired for a specific period of time. In fact, if the employee does sign an employee handbook or other type of contract, it may specifically state that they are an at-will employee.

Many people do not necessarily know it means to be an at-will employee. Being an at-will employee means that the employee can quit their job at any point in time for any reason. The flip side of being an at-will employee, though, is that the company can fire an employee for almost any reason at any point in time. Sometimes there are procedures regarding the time between an employer giving an employee notice that they will be fired and their last day with the company, but beyond that there are only a few protections for the employee.

Helping whistleblowers after employers retaliate

There are many laws that people in California must follow. When they do not follow these laws, they could be charged with crimes. This is true for businesses as well. There are many laws and regulations that they must follow as well. These could be laws regarding certain financial transactions, environmental laws, labor laws such as wage and hour laws and other laws. However, sometimes it can be difficult for the government to know when these laws are being broken.

The government agencies may need employees within the company to tell them when their employers are breaking these laws. When employees do this they are commonly referred to as whistleblowers. Not surprisingly, many companies will be upset if an employee turns them into the authorities though. These companies may then retaliate the employees for doing so. The retaliation can come in many different forms as well.

Google employees walk out in protest of sexual harassment at work

While there have been many industries that have been exposed through the #metoo movement, the tech industry in particular has been under fire for a variety of issues. These include accusations in regards to the number of women in the industry and their ability to move up in the companies. Also, there have been a number of claims regarding sexual harassment that women in the industry experience.

To help bring the issues into the light, employees at Google worldwide staged a walk out recently. This resulted after an investigation into the company showed that sexual harassment claims were common, but the company did their best to keep them quiet. Also, executives who were accused of the harassment received multi-million dollar severance packages instead of being held accountable for their actions. Overall, the concerns were that the culture in the company was toxic for women in hiring, promotion, pay and harassment.

Calculating damages in a wrongful termination lawsuit

There are many reasons people stop working for their current employer in California. It could be that they decided to quit because the company was not a good fit for them or because they received a better opportunity elsewhere. However, it could also be because the company laid them off or fired them. While in many situations being fired is legal, there are many other reasons when a firing could be illegal.

A firing could be considered a wrongful termination if the employee was fired based on discriminatory reasons. This could be because of race, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, national origin and other reasons. If this was the basis, the employee could file a wrongful termination claim against the employer and could be entitled to compensation as a result. There are a few different types of compensation they could receive, but one type is future pay.

What actions in the workplace are considered sexual harassment?

Not all people in California love their jobs and even those who do have days when they simply do not want to go. This could be because the work is mundane, they have an overbearing boss, their co-workers are annoying or other reasons. However, most of those types of reasons are legal and if the person wants to keep their job they must put up with it. However, there are other reasons that people may not want to go to work which can include illegal conduct by managers or co-workers.

One of these reasons is if the person is experiencing sexual harassment at work. This can come in many different forms as well. It could be visual such as co-workers staring or making sexual gestures or displaying offensive pictures of a sexual nature. It could be verbal harassment such as using sexually explicit language, making comments about the person's appearance or other sexual comments. It could be physical as well such as unwanted touching. It could also include sexual advances and offers in exchange for promotions or taking them away if they do not accept sexual advances.

Potential compensation for a whistleblower Qui Tam action

There are many employers in California who are hardworking and follow the rules they are supposed to follow. However, as the goal of most companies is to make a profit, some will do whatever they feel is necessary to make some extra money. This includes illegal activities such as lying on forms to receive extra compensation from the government. Others may falsify gross income reports to boost the value of stock in the company. The government obviously has a strong interest in ensuring this does not happen.

This usually means that the government needs employees within the company to come forward and report the illegal activity. Employees who decide to this can start what is called a Qui Tam lawsuit. Essentially, this a lawsuit filed on behalf of the government that ultimately benefits the government. However, because the benefit is for the government, many employees will need an incentive in order to do so, since there could be serious ramifications for them by starting one of these lawsuits.

Can 'last chance agreements' be considered discriminatory?

Two years ago, KEYT news anchor Paula Lopez sued her former employer, NPG of California, alleging several labor code violations against the Santa Barbara television station management. One allegation was that the "last chance agreement" she signed after a drunk driving arrest violated her privacy rights.

Lopez admitted to suffering from alcoholism, a condition her lawyer notes is "a legally protected disability." Although Lopez later filed to dismiss the suit, it raises a good question: Can "last chance agreements" be considered discriminatory?

Teacher claims wrongful termination for her firing while pregnant

It is well established in California that women cannot be treated differently than men at work. Any employment related decision, including firing an employee, cannot be based on the employee's gender. However, this still does occur, and women are still affected by these discriminatory decisions. One way that women can be discriminated against is based on their pregnancies.

A former teacher is now claiming in a wrongful termination lawsuit that her employer fired her for that reason. However, there is a slight twist in this case. Her employer was a Catholic church and she says that she was fired not just because she was pregnant, but because she was pregnant outside of marriage, which was morally unacceptable for the church. She claims she was told by the pastor of the church that it would send a bad message to the students. The church is denying the claim and says she was fired for other job performance related reasons.

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