Wrongful Termination: Man Holding Box of Belongings

With 80 million people employed in the private sector of the American economy, only 20 million of these individuals are part of a union protected by unjust dismissal by collective negotiation agreements, the remaining 60 million are employed “at will.” These “at will” employees can be terminated for any reason, even a bad one, and for no reason at all. 

The magnitude of this issue is enormous. Almost two million “at will” employees are fired each year, and when unbiased arbitrators review the decisions for termination, over half of them are found to be unjust. Experts believe that over 150,000 people are unjustly fired in a given year.

While many individuals who are fired from their job feel as though their termination was “wrongful,” especially if they were fired without cause, the legal definition of wrongful termination is very specific. To be “wrongfully terminated,” one must be fired for an illegal reason, which can include a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws or a breach of contract. Although most employment is “at will,” there are some exceptions to the rule that could help keep you from getting fired or suing your former employer for wrongful termination.

Documented Promises

When you start a job, you almost always sign a contract. This contract will include the following:

  • Name and address of employer and employee
  • Start date
  • Date contract will apply from
  • Continuous services date
  • When the contract is expected to end (if it is temporary or fixed-term)
  • Job title 
  • Brief description of duties
  • Place of work
  • Hours of work
  • Pay – how often and when
  • Holiday entitlement
  • Sick time and personal time off pay
  • Notice period
  • Pension arrangements
  • Disciplinary and grievance procedures (or explanation on where to find information about these)
  • And more.

If you have this written contract or another document that promises you job security, you have a firm argument that you are not an at-will employee. For example, if the agreement you possess states that you can only be fired with good cause or for reasons that are stated in the contract. You could also have an offer letter or other written documentation that makes promises about your continued employment. If this is the case, you may be able to implement these promises in a court of law.

Implied Promises

The existence of an implied employment contract, an agreement based on things that were said or done by your employer, is another exception to the at-will rule. Unfortunately, this can be tough to prove because many employers are cautious not to make any promises of continued employment. However, implied contacts have been demonstrated where employers promised a “permanent employment,” or employment for a specific amount of time. These implied contracts detailed particular forms of progressive discipline in an employee manual. When determining whether an implied employment contract exists, the court will look at numerous details, including:

  • Duration of employment 
  • History of positive performance reviews
  • If your employer violated a standard employment practice in firing you (like neglecting to give a required warning)
  • Whether promises of long-term employment were promised when hired
  • Regularity of job promotions
  • Assurances that you would have continued employment

Violation of Good Faith And Fair Dealing

If an employer acts unfairly, you most likely have a claim for a breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. The duty of good faith and fair dealing means that parties cannot evade the spirit of the bargain, lack diligence or slack off, perform incorrectly on purpose, abuse their power when specifying the terms of a contract, or interfere with or fail to cooperate in the other party’s performance. In court, it has been found that employers breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing by:

  • Transferring or firing an employee so they could not collect sales commissions
  • Falsely leading employees to believe they have a chance for promotions or wage increases
  • Making up reasons for firing an employee when the real reason was to replace them with someone who will work for lower pay
  • Down-playing the bad aspects of a job, like the need to travel through dangerous neighborhoods late at night
  • Continuously transferring an employee to remote, dangerous, or undesirable assignments in hopes the employee will quit without collecting severance pay or other benefits usually due after termination

Some states do not recognize the “good faith and fair dealing” exception to an at-will employee. Other states require that a valid employment contract exists before a terminated employee sues for a breach of good faith and fair dealing. 

Violation of Public Policy

Public policy can be defined as a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic publicized by a governmental entity or its representatives. It is illegal to violate public policy when firing an employee for reasons society recognizes as unlawful grounds for termination. 

Before a wrongful termination case based on the violation of public policy will be allowed, many courts require that there be a specific law setting out the policy. Numerous state and federal laws have identified employment-related actions that distinctly violate public policy, like terminating an employee for: 

  • Disclosing a company practice of refusing to pay employees their earned commissions and accrued vacation pay
  • Taking time off of work to vote
  • Taking time off of work to serve on a jury
  • Serving in the military or National Guard
  • Informing authorities about wrongdoing that is harmful to the public (whistle-blowing)

Some states will protect employees from being terminated for particular reasons, such as serving as an election officer or volunteer firefighter. Some courts have also determined that an employer cannot fire you because you took advantage of a legal remedy or exercised a legal right, like filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting any violation of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act).


Employers are not permitted to fire at-will employees for illegal reasons, and discrimination is unlawful. If you think that your termination was due to your color, race, national origin, gender, age, religious views, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and more, you should consult an attorney right away. There are strict limits (statutes of limitations) that apply to discrimination claims, such as filing a complaint of discrimination with a state or federal agency before you can sue an employer in court. 


In extreme cases, an employer’s actions when firing an employee become so devious that they result in fraud. Fraud is commonly found during the recruiting process, where promises are made and broken or leading up to the final stages of employment (such as an employee being persuaded to resign).

In order to prove that your employment loss was due to fraud, you must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • Your employer made a false representation
  • Someone in charge knew of the false representation
  • Your employer intended to mislead you (or tried to persuade you to depend on the representation)
  • You relied on the representation
  • Your dependence on the representation harmed you

The most challenging part of proving fraud is showing that the employer acted poorly on purpose in an attempt to deceive you intentionally. Establishing this requires sufficient documentation of how, when, to whom, and by what means the false representations were made. 


A defamation lawsuit is meant to safeguard a person’s reputation and good standing in the community. To prove that defamation was the reason you were terminated, you must be able to prove that in the process of termination, your former employer made false and spiteful statements about you that harmed your chances of finding another job. To sue for defamation, you must prove that your former employer:

  • Made an incorrect statement about you
  • Made the statement despite you (knowing that it was not accurate or with careless disregard to its deceitfulness)
  • Told or wrote that statement to at least one other person
  • Harmed you by communicating the statement—causing you to lose your job or preventing you from getting another one

To win a defamation case, you must be able to prove that the unkind words were more than just mere gossip. True defamation must be factual information, and it also must be false.

Whistle-Blowing Violations

Whistle-blowing occurs when an employee reports any illegal conduct at work that is not related to workplace rights. For example, you would be a whistleblower if you report your company is manipulating financial data to make their financial results look better than they are, engaging in shareholder fraud, producing malfunctioning, dangerous, or mislabeled products, or lying on their tax returns. 

Laws regarding whistle-blowing protect employees who report suspicious activity that is unlawful or will harm the public. Some states protect whistle-blowers who state that their employer broke the law, regulation, or mandate at all. Other states give employers whistle-blower protection only when they report that their employer broke particular laws, such as labor laws or environmental regulations.

What Type of Lawsuit Should You File If you Experience Wrongful Termination?  

If you have experienced wrongful termination in the workplace, then you need to file an employment law claim. This type of lawsuit occurs when an employee experiences unlawful behavior from their employer. The employer’s behavior could include discrimination or unfair labor practices. If you have ever experienced wrongful termination, sexual harassment, employer retaliation, wage violations, etc., then you may be entitled to compensation with an employment law claim. Many people experience these wrongdoings and are afraid to speak out against their employer. The Cochran Firm will fight for you and seek to bring justice to your family. There are other types of employment law claims besides wrongful termination. These include family and medical leave act violations, workplace sexual harassment, employer retaliation, wage and hour violations, and workplace harassment.

Violation of The Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid leave or job-protected leave for particular family and medical reasons. These reasons could include being ill, taking care of a loved one who is sick, or taking care of or bonding with a newborn baby. Employees have the legal right to return to work and be free from retaliation for taking leave. 

Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they have been employed at their place of work for at least one year and at least 1,250 hours. These eligible workers can receive up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the following reasons:

  • Birth and care for a newborn baby within one year of birth
  • Placement with an employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within a year of placement
  • Caring for an employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a severe medical condition
  • A severe medical condition that prevents an employee from performing the essential functions of their job
  • Any qualifying need stemming from the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”

Eligible workers can receive up to twenty-six workweeks of leave during a 12-month period to care for a covered military member with a severe injury or illness if the eligible employee is the cover military member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

If you have been terminated due to taking family or medical leave to which you were entitled under the law, you most likely have an employment law claim

Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

Sexual harassment occurs when an employee experiences unwelcomed sexual advances, verbal or physical harassment of sexual nature, or requests for sexual favors. In some companies, sexual harassment has become so prominent and ingrained into the culture that it often leads to a hostile work environment where employees struggle to be productive and successfully do their job daily. Unfortunately, in some cases, employees are forced to quit because they cannot tolerate the harassment any longer.

Victims of workplace sexual harassment can be male or female, and the harasser can be a boss, supervisor, co-worker, or even someone external like a client or customer. Workplace sexual harassment should never be tolerated. If you have been sexually harassed while at work and believe that you were terminated because of it, as retaliation for complaining about it, or quit your job because of it, you should file an employment law claim


Employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees who have engaged in particular legally protected activities. Retaliation can include any adverse job action, such as demotion, discipline, firing, reduction in salary, or job/shift reassignment. However, retaliation can also be more subtle. To show that the reason you were terminated was because of your employer’s retaliation, you must be able to prove the following:

  • You were involved in a legally protected activity such as filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in the process of formally complaining to your employer about discrimination or harassment
  • The legally protected activity triggered your employer to act maliciously towards you—for instance, you were dismissed right after your employer became aware that you were filing a charge of sexual harassment against them
  • Your employer’s action had unfavorable consequences for you—for instance, you were terminated, denied a promotion, or given a bad performance review that was unjustified

As long as the employer’s adverse action would dissuade a reasonable person in the situation from making a complaint, it constitutes illegal retaliation.

Wage and Hour Disputes

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for managing and enforcing some of the nation’s most important worker protection laws. WHD is dedicated to ensuring that this country’s workers are adequately paid and for all the hours they work, regardless of immigration status. Wage and hour disputes occur when an employer fails to follow state laws that are in regards to limiting the amount of time an employee can work or their compensation for exceeding that limit. Although laws vary from state to state, they can cover minimum wage, overtime compensation, lunch and rest breaks, and any damages due to an employee when these regulations were ignored. Some common examples of wage and hour violations include:

  • Management takes any amount of tips that you earned
  • Your earnings are less than the minimum wage set for your state
  • Your employer makes you skip lunch or rest breaks
  • You were denied overtime because you were misclassified as a manager
  • You are forced to work around the clock with no overtime pay

If you are filing an employment law claim because of a wage and hour dispute, it is essential to compile documentation, including payment stubs, employment contracts, company policies, and other documentation to help support your claim.

Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment occurs when an employer interacts with an employee that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. An employer’s, manager’s, or co-worker’s adverse conduct can be based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, older age, disability, or genetic information. This type of harassment becomes illegal when the adverse behavior becomes a condition of continued employment or is bad enough to create a work environment that is so uncomfortable it is considered hostile or abusive. The negative behavior can include crude jokes, slurs, intimidation, ridicule, offensive insults, physical threats, and even assaults. Workplace harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including:

  • The harasser is the victim’s manager, a manager in another department, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee
  • The victim does not have to be directly harassed but can be anyone who was offended by the conduct
  • Unlawful harassment can occur without economic injury to or the discharge of the victim

 If you have been harassed while at work and believe that you were terminated because of it, as retaliation for complaining about it, or quit your job because of it, you should file an employment law claim.

Why Choose The Cochran Firm

Johnnie Cochran had long dreamed of creating a national law firm of men and women from all races, religions, creeds, and backgrounds to show how well we could all work together to make the world a better place. When Mr. Cochran started The Cochran Firm, his mission was “a journey to justice.” Today, with more than 35 offices across more than 20 states, the attorneys at The Cochran Firm work every day to fulfill that dream and continue that mission by working for our clients with the same work ethic and dedication to justice exemplified by Mr. Johnnie Cochran himself. 

The Cochran Firm is a diverse group of highly skilled and experienced lawyers that are dedicated to bringing high-quality representation to injured people and their families. Our experienced attorneys at The Cochran Firm are among the nation’s most recognized and successful attorneys in the country. When navigating through the legal process, you deserve to have an experienced attorney by your side. Our attorneys at The Cochran Firm know how to fight for you.

Here at The Cochran Firm, our employment law claims attorneys are ready to help victims who have been wrongfully terminated receive the maximum compensation and financial recovery for all of their pain and suffering. Our attorneys work closely with each of our clients using pooled resources and their access to legal expertise to ensure the most effective legal representation available is provided.

You need the help of an experienced attorney who has proven successful results in other similar cases to guide you through the process and help you to receive the monetary damages you are entitled to under the law. At The Cochran Firm, we have the offices, the experience, the results, and the resources to aid clients throughout the United States.

If you’re looking for an experienced lawyer to help you pursue justice for your wrongful termination, please contact our employment law claims attorneys at The Cochran Firm today for your free, no-obligation initial consultation today. We serve the entire country with offices in many major U.S. cities.