Can I be fired for filing a workplace discrimination lawsuit?
The fact that workplace discrimination occurs is terrible enough. Sadly, some employers don’t stop there. They go further and take negative actions against employees that speak up for themselves.
This is against the law though. Both California and federal law prohibit employers from taking adverse employment actions against employees on discriminatory grounds. If these employees have filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit or complaint they are protected from adverse actions. Such actions amount to retaliation under the law.
If you have been fired because you filed a lawsuit to stop discrimination, you may have a claim for compensation. This would be the same even if you were not the one that filed a lawsuit but you spoke up on behalf of others. The law entitles you to seek compensation if you have lost your job or are being threatened with job loss.
If you suspect that you are being “made to pay” for filing a complaint or lawsuit about discriminatory practices, you should speak to a California employment lawyer immediately. If something doesn’t seem right with how you were dismissed, tell our lawyers about it.
At Eldessouky Law, we have helped many wronged employees seek and recover fair compensation for retaliatory practices by employers. We strongly believe every workplace should be fair, and employees should be empowered to fight for their rights. Get in touch with us immediately if you have been a victim of retaliation in the workplace.
What laws protect me against retaliation in California?
Ordinarily, the rule regarding dismissal at work is that employees may be fired at any time. The employer could even choose to fire them for no reason. This rule is commonly referred to as the at-will employment doctrine.
However, there are exceptions to the rule. First, the courts have modified the rule to provide Common Law protections. Second, there are protections provided by the legislature. We will dwell mostly on this second exception.
The legislative exceptions were created mostly to protect employees that undertake “protected actions”. These include the following:
- Reporting violations of law in line with California Labor Code 1102.5 LC
- Opposing, complaining about or participating in an investigation. When it relates to employment discrimination or workplace harassment.
- Requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious belief.
- Filing or assisting in filing a lawsuit under the California False Claims Act.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) specifically protects employees that:
- Oppose acts of employment harassment or discrimination. This includes a failure to grant the required pregnancy or family leave.
- File a complaint about employment discrimination or harassment.
- Provide evidence by testifying or assisting in any proceeding under FEHA.
- Lawfully request accommodation for their religious belief or on account of a disability.
When an employer takes adverse employment actions against an employee for any of these acts, they would have engaged in retaliation. This is an unlawful employment practice under FEHA.
The purpose of FEHA is to ensure that employees who stand up for their rights are protected. It ensures those who stand up for the rights of others under the Act are not “made to pay” for their actions. Every employee is entitled to insist on their legal rights, and the law ensures they can do so without fear of reprisal.
Other federal laws such as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act apply here too. Same as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
How can I tell if my employer’s acts constitute retaliation?
The basic legal definition of retaliation in the workplace consists of two elements. First is that your employer takes an adverse employment action against you or threatens to do so. Second, they do this because you engaged in a protected activity.
If your employer fires you for filing a discrimination complaint, it is easy to identify this as a potential act of retaliation. In the same manner, if your employer threatens you outright, it would be easier to say retaliation has occurred. If they promised to make your life in the workplace miserable because of your complaint, the possibility of retaliation is much clearer.
However, in most cases, employer retaliation takes a much more subtle guise and is usually harder to spot. There are signs you can look out for though. Some of these include:
- Suddenly increased workload that makes it harder to perform well.
- Assignment to less desired shifts or jobs that your performance does not merit.
- Denial of access to resources or training that would advance your career or help you perform better.
- Exclusion from meetings or correspondence, making it difficult for you to perform well on your tasks.
- Receiving unjustified negative performance reviews
- Being subject to disciplinary action on fabricated charges or on inadequate grounds.
- Denial of a promotion or raise you to believe you have earned.
If you have been subject to any of these actions, you should immediately contact a California employment discrimination lawyer.
What are my options if I have been targeted for workplace retaliation?
Employees that have suffered from acts amounting to workplace retaliation can obtain redress in a number of ways. These include filing an administrative complaint and filing a lawsuit.
If you are being retaliated against for filing a complaint or lawsuit for workplace discrimination, FEHA allows you to file a complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
The complaint must usually be filed within one year of occurrence of the adverse action complained of. Once the DFEH issues a “right to sue” notice, you may then file a lawsuit against your employer.
You will be entitled to seek and recover damages for the wrongful actions of your employer. These may include:
- The value of lost pay from the date of termination till date (if you were fired).
- The value of benefits attributable to the loss of your job.
- Value of lost pay from retaliatory demotion, denial of a promotion or a raise.
- Damages for emotional distress arising from your mistreatment at work.
- Damages for any harm done to your career or professional reputation due to the adverse employment actions (such as a denial of promotion, career advancement opportunities, or demotion).
You may also pursue redress under other laws, depending on the nature of retaliation you have been subjected to. Under the Labor Code, you may be entitled to file a complaint with the California Labor and Workplace Development Agency (LWDA). The LWDA may choose to investigate the complaint or give you leave to file a lawsuit at the California Superior Court.
If the retaliation you are suffering is linked to a False Claims complaint, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit against your employer under the California False Claims Act.
In all circumstances, you may have several options open to you. When you contact a qualified California retaliation lawyer, you will be able to better understand your rights and how to enforce them.
Call us for help
If you have any questions about California employment law, workplace retaliation, or if you want to discuss your case confidentially, contact us to speak with one of our attorneys.