Here is a short decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which serves to illustrate a couple of important legal principles regarding wrongful termination cases.
Most callers to our office are completely unaware of the at-will employment presumption, so they start from the false premise that the employer needs a reason to fire them. I explain that being fired for no reason does not make it a wrongful termination UNLESS the termination violates a public policy, like discrimination on the basis of race.
Sometimes the caller is so discouraged by that point that they say something like,
“Well then I guess employees have no rights in California, because if they can fire you for no reason, then how would you ever prove they did it out of discrimination? No employer is ever going to say, “I’m firing you because you are black.’”
You’re right, caller, they probably won’t say that (although a surprising number of employers do say, “We’re firing you because you are pregnant.”). But never did I say there was such a requirement. Most cases are proven with indirect evidence.
Look at the following case to see how attorneys prove wrongful termination based on discrimination.
BUT NOTE: The plaintiff here has not won yet. His case was thrown out on a motion for summary judgment, and the appeal court reversed that because there were triable issues of fact. A summary judgment motion cannot be granted if there are any material issues of fact in dispute.
ALSO NOTE: I always tell callers, as a general rule the company is not liable for discrimination if you never told the company about it. As you’ll see from the decision, the 9th Circuit did not reverse as to the retaliation claim, because the plaintiff did not report the alleged discrimination.