Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination?

You might be familiar with the word “wrongful termination.” However, most people do not know that there is no legal cause of action solely for “wrongful termination.”

Rather, wrongful termination in violation of the law generally refers to termination which violates a statute, or law enacted by Congress, or in some cases, court made law, referred to as common law. Examples of wrongful termination include:

  • Discrimination – under Federal law, an employer cannot fire you because of your race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, age, or disability. State laws may be broader and prohibit discrimination against additional protected classes such as weight or height. 
  • Retaliation – under the same statutes that prohibit discrimination, an employer cannot fire you for engaging in protected activity. Protected activity can vary by statute, but generally includes opposing, reporting, or participating in an investigation of employment discrimination. 
  • Whistleblower Retaliation – various statutes prohibit employers from terminating an employee for reporting violations of the law to a governmental body. Some examples include reporting or participating in an investigation of accounting fraud and reporting violations of OSHA
  • Breach of Contract – if you have an employment contract that specifies termination only for cause and the employer breaches the contract by terminating you without cause, you may be able to sue for breach of contract. 

Whether you have a legal claim and whether a lawsuit is worthwhile to pursue, however, are two different questions. You may have a legal claim, but if your damages, or the amount you can recover, are not substantial enough, a lawsuit may not be in your best interest. 

Generally, the amount of damages you may be able to recover is first based on the amount of economic damages you have incurred. Economic damages are the amount of money you will lose as a result of the wrongful termination. For example, if you were making $100,000 at the job you were wrongfully terminated from and thereafter obtain employment at $90,000, your economic damages will be $10,000 per year. It varies from cases to case, but you may only be able to recover for five to ten years of damages, and therefore, your economic damages will range from $50,000 to $100,000. 

In addition to economic damages, you may be able to recover noneconomic damages in the form of emotional distress. The amount of emotional distress recovered depends on the egregiousness of the employer’s conduct and the resulting impact on the employee, and therefore varies widely. However, as a general, but imprecise rule, one can estimate noneconomic damages as one-third of economic damages. Thus, if you have $60,000 in economic damages, you can estimate your noneconomic damages at $20,000, for a total of $80,000. Again, however, this a imprecise and your noneconomic damages be vastly higher or lower than this estimate depending on the facts of the case. 

In general, if your economic damages are not at least $30,000, a wrongful termination lawsuit may not be worthwhile due to attorneys’ fees and court costs. 

If you do have a claim for wrongful termination, you have two options for pursuing recourse. 

First, if the wrongful termination was based on a violation of the anti-discrimination statutes, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For other violations of the law, you may be able to file a complaint with a different governmental agency. These agencies will investigate and attempt to resolve the case. However, these agencies usually cannot bind the employer to any settlement. 

A much more effective means of recovery is to seek representation from an attorney. It is important that you research and find the best employment lawyers in your area. The skills and experience of employment lawyers vary greatly, and ensuring you obtain the best representation possible will help you maximize your recovery.

Interesting Related Article: “Discrimination of Contract Workers & Wrongful Termination of Freelancers