Category Archives: Employment

Wrongful Termination — Former Teacher Awarded $3.5 Million

What a difference being a government employee makes. Most workers are at-will employees and can be terminated without cause on the whim of the employer, but teachers can only be terminated for cause. In the case of Lyndsey Wilcox v. Newark Valley Central School District, that distinction led to a huge verdict.

A jury on Wednesday awarded close to $3.5 million in damages to Wilcox, who alleged she was fired without cause. Wilcox was dating another teacher when it was discovered that he was acting inappropriately toward female students. He was ultimately convicted of sex offenses and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Wilcox successfully argued that she was only terminated for the sins of her boyfriend.

The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning with a verdict awarding Wilcox $351,990 for lost wages and $2.1 million for future lost earnings and $1 million for emotional distress.

Hostile Work Environment — The Law Does Not Promise a Utopian Workplace

I don’t often set forth an entire opinion, but the following case out of the Third Circuit provides a very good summary of what constitutes a “hostile work environment”, while at the same time demonstrating how the facts of a case are dissected and examined.  If you are contemplating a wrongful termination action in general or a hostile work environment action in particular, this case is well worth reading.

The takeaways are:  (1) a mean boss does not (necessarily) a hostile work environment make, and (2) if individual acts are not “hostile”, then even 14 of those acts will not create a hostile work environment.

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Former Apple Employee Sues for Wrongful Termination

Here is a interesting wrongful termination action, in that it illustrates a couple of basic points of wrongful termination and should prove to be very informative on the law as it proceeds.

Wayne Goodrich is a former employee of Apple. As an at-will employee, he could of course be terminated without cause. In December 2011 he was terminated by Apple for “business reasons”, and told that the termination had nothing to do with his job performance. Goodrich claims that was a wrongful termination in violation of contract because he was not an at-will employee. He asserts that Steve Jobs gave him a job for life. Goodrich claims that in 2005, during a one-on-one meeting with Steve Jobs, Jobs told him that he would always have a job.

Steve Jobs is dead, and there were no witnesses to the conversation, so we must rely entirely on what Goodrich alleges was said during the conversation. Aside from that problem with proof, Goodrich’s claim will fail for the following reasons.

Goodrich began his job at Apple in 1998. He doesn’t claim that he had a job for life at the time he was hired, but rather that the contract was created by the 2005 statement by Jobs. Under basic contract principles, a contract requires mutual consideration. Goodrich was already working at Apple at the time of the statement, so what did Apple receive in return for this promise of life time employment? Thus, under basic contract principles, the claim fails.

There is a concept called promissory estoppel, which provides the contract consideration if the plaintiff can show that the defendant knew he was relying to his detriment. In other words, if Goodrich had gone to Jobs and informed him that he was leaving to take a job at HP for a much higher salary, and Jobs had said, “don’t take the job at HP, stay here where you will always have a job”, then that detrimental reliance in turning down the HP job could provide the consideration. However, as far as I know, Goodrich is making no such claim.

The other fatal flaw in Goodrich’s case is the wording of the alleged statement. If an employee is going to claim that they were given a job for life, then the terms of that “lifetime job contract” have to be sufficiently certain to be enforceable.

Assume that Jobs said to Goodrich, “Wayne, you’re my guy. I can’t imagine running this company without you. You will always have a job at Apple.”

What does that mean? If Goodrich stopped coming to work and sat at home watching Jerry Springer, would he still have a job for life at Apple? No, I’m sure even Goodrich would stipulate that there were circumstances for which he could be fired. He would probably assert that he could only be fired for cause. But what if the cause is that his job is eliminated, or the company is restructured? Or what if Jobs meant that you’ll always have a job while I’m here? And what about the reverse? Was Goodrich required to stay there for life? Did Jobs really mean that Apple was committed to Goodrich for life, but Goodrich was free to shop around his services to see if he could make more money? That seems unfair and unlikely.

The point is, that simple statement by Jobs is just too uncertain to be enforced. There are circumstances where an employer can transmute an at-will employee into an employee who can only be terminated for cause. We have prevailed on a number of cases on that basis. But based on what I know of this case, claiming a job for life just will not fly. It should also be noted that Steve Jobs himself was fired by Apple, although he was eventually brought back.

We’ll watch this case develop and see if I am prescient. Here is a more detailed article about the action against apple.

Watch movie online A Cure for Wellness (2017)

How to Prove a Wrongful Termination Case in California

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. Continue reading