At Will Employment & Wrongful Termination

Wrongful Termination is a misunderstood concept. Many states, like Texas, are at-will employment states. This means that, absent an agreement otherwise, a worker’s employment may be terminated at will, for a good reason, a bad reason, or for no reason at all. Workplace discrimination however, can be illegal under certain circumstances.  The employment and termination as a whole, must be evaluated to ensure no illegal wrongful termination has occurred.

Prohibitions

However, this does not mean an employer may fire an employee for ANY reason. For example, an employer with 15 or more employees may not fire, or in any way discriminate against an employee for a prohibited reason.  Illegal discriminatory practices or reasons include: race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  This type of discrimination is often referred to as Wrongful Termination and is made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

wrongul firing and sexual discrimination

Based on my experience representing employees in these cases, it is common for the employer to defend by pointing to an alleged legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination or other adverse employment action. Since no employee is perfect, and we all have our faults, it is important to be prepared to confront the employer’s allegations that the employee’s misconduct or deficient job performance was the reason for the termination or other adverse action taken against the employee.

Overcoming the Employers Usual Defenses

There are two ways to combat the employer’s defense that it was the employee’s conduct, and not the employer’s illegal bias, that caused it to take the complained of action against the employee.  First, the employee may show that the proffered reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination. This may be done by showing that other employees—perhaps of a different race or gender—committed the same offense but were not similarly punished or by proving the allegation is false.

The other way to combat the employer’s defense that the employee’s misconduct caused the adverse employment action is by showing that the employer’s reason, though true, is only one reason for its conduct and another reason is its illegal bias against the employee.  For example, if an employer claims it terminated an employee for tardiness and produces time sheets to establish that the employee did arrive late for work, the employee may be able to overcome this defense by showing the employer referred to her in derogatory terms based on race or gender. In other words, while the employer’s stated legitimate reason is true, evidence suggests that the employer’s illegal bias was another motivating factor for the adverse employment action. This is known as a “mixed motive” case and will allow the employee to prevail.

Remedies

Employment discrimination is a real problem in today’s workplace. Employees have rights and the law provides remedies to address violations. However, it is important to formulate a sound legal strategy to meet, and defeat, the employer’s anticipated defenses before initiating legal redress.

Have you, or somebody you know, been the victim of wrongful termination? If so, then please send this post to a friend or leave a comment below and let’s discuss.

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Photo of David Langenfeld David Langenfeld

David Langenfeld is Board Certified as a Specialist in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Langenfeld represents employees from various industries in claims and lawsuits against employers and former employers. Mr. Langenfeld has been a lawyer for more than twenty-five years. During that time he has successfully represented workers in cases involving unpaid overtime wages, wrongful termination, and employment discrimination. In addition to litigating these cases, Mr. Langenfeld has lectured to attorneys and human resource professionals on issues involving employment law.

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