Wrongful Termination and Demotion Lawyers
If you have been fired, laid off or demoted, we may be able to help you.
Even though Arizona is an “at will” employment state, federal and state laws protect your rights against wrongful termination or other actions by your employer that violate your rights. A wrongful termination or demotion by your employer can involve a number of unlawful acts.
First, you may have legal rights when you are fired or laid off
(wrongfully or not), including the right to all compensation you have earned, the right to continue your health insurance coverage (see our discussion of COBRA), the right to any severance to which you are entitled, and the right to collect unemployment benefits for which you have qualified.
Types of Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination by private and public employers can take many forms, including:
- Constructive discharge
- Employer’s failure to follow its own policies in terminating you
- Unlawful retaliation for whistle blowing
or complaining about discrimination or other unlawful conduct.
Discrimination and Wrongful Termination
You have a right to be free of discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, both private and public employees are often victimized based on their race, gender, pregnancy, age, disability, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity or genetic background. Some employees who complain about discrimination suffer unlawful retaliation by their employers.
Although important laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have reduced the prevalence of employment discrimination, private and public employees still experience discrimination, and some employees who complain about discrimination suffer unlawful retaliation by their employers.
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
“Constructive discharge” is a form of wrongful termination that refers to your quitting your job because of intolerable working conditions. Depending on the circumstances, notice to your employer that you are resigning because of such conditions can be considered a termination – perhaps wrongful.
As an example, an employer wishes to terminate an employee but, for any number of reasons, cannot do so without incurring negative consequences (e.g., a wrongful termination claim, unemployment insurance claim, etc.). So, instead of terminating the worker, the employer makes life miserable for him or her by harassment, creating a hostile work environment, creating a physical environment in which the worker cannot perform his or her job, imposing a demotion or pay cut, or otherwise pressuring the worker to quit.
Employer Failure to Follow Its Own Procedures
In many work situations, an “implied contract” may exist between the employer and employee, perhaps stemming from provisions in the employer’s employee manual, handbook or other printed policies and procedures; from verbal statements made by the employer; or from practices that, though not in writing, have been consistently followed by the employer.
If your employer violated a term of an implied contract when firing you, you may have grounds for a wrongful termination claim. In some cases, the existence of an implied contract can allow for a successful claim of wrongful termination even in an “at will” employment state (such as Arizona).
To get around their own rules, some employers will ask employees to sign a “waiver” that states that the employee manual or unwritten policies do not constitute a contract. If you willingly signed such a document, that might weaken your claim of a breach of implied contract. On the other hand, if your employer made your signing of such a document a condition of your employment (i.e., they threatened to fire you or not hire you if you didn’t sign), your signing of the waiver may not be held against you.
Wrongful discharge can involve unlawful or improper retaliation by your employers in response to your exercising a broad range of rights, such as:
- Refusal to commit an illegal act ordered by the employer
- Refusal to commit an act that violates public policy
- Refusal to comply with a wrongful company policy
- Free speech
- Union organizing
- Complaints about working conditions (including workplace safety, harassment and hostile work environment)
- Alleging failure to pay minimum wage or overtime
- Taking legal or administrative action against your employer
- Taking paid vacation, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
or paid sick leave, or disability.
Your Remedies for Wrongful Termination
Filing an EEOC Claim.
If you believe that your job loss or demotion is due to discrimination, you have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing many anti-discrimination laws. In most cases you have 180 days from the date of the discriminatory activity to file an EEOC discrimination charge in order to preserve your rights.
When a charge is filed against an employer, the EEOC will notify the employer within 10 days. A charge does not constitute a finding that the employer engaged in discrimination, and the EEOC has authority to investigate whether there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred.
Once the investigator has completed the investigation, the EEOC will make a determination on the merits of the charge.
If the EEOC does not find reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, you will be issued a notice called a Dismissal and Notice of Rights. This notice informs you that you have the right to file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days from the date you receive the notice. The employer will also receive a copy of this notice.
If the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, both parties will be issued a Letter of Determination and invite the parties to join the agency in seeking to resolve the charge through an informal process known as conciliation.
When conciliation does not succeed in resolving the charge, the EEOC has the authority to enforce violations of its statutes by filing a lawsuit in federal court. If the EEOC decides not to litigate, you will receive a Notice of Right to Sue, and you may file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.
If you decide to file a federal lawsuit, the potential remedies available to you may include:
- Back pay (i.e., the pay you would have received up to that point had the discrimination not occurred)
- The job or promotion that was denied to you
- Reinstatement to the job from which you were terminated
- Front pay (i.e., if reinstatement is not an option, future pay you would have received)
- Reasonable accommodation
- Other actions that would make you "whole" (i.e., in the condition you would have been but for the wrongful termination)
- Compensation for mental and emotional distress
- Punitive damages
In general, monetary damages in discrimination cases take two forms: compensatory damages (i.e., an award intended to compensate you for your monetary losses and, in some cases, mental anguish and inconvenience) and, in less frequent cases, punitive damages (i.e., an award to “punish” the employer in cases where the discrimination was intentional or committed with malice or reckless indifference).
Remedies also may include payment of attorneys' fees, expert witness fees, and court costs.