Employers have a lot of freedom when it comes to firing employees. Every state in the United States, except for Montana, practices “at will” employment. If you don’t have an employment contract, your employment is most likely “at will.” One example of an employment contract would be if you were part of a union. “At will” employment means that your employer doesn’t need to have a good reason to fire you. However, there are exceptions that could lead to wrongful termination.
Wrongful Termination Possibilities
If you are terminated for any of these reasons, this can be considered as wrongful termination.
- Discrimination. Your employer can’t fire you because you are of a certain race, nationality, religion, gender, or age.
- Retaliation. An employer cannot fire you because you are a “whistle blower”, which is someone who brings to light misconduct within a company or organization.
- Illegal Acts. Your employer can’t fire you because you refuse to commit an act that’s illegal.
- Pregnancy. A company cannot fire you because they don’t want to provide you with maternity leave.
Getting fired for any of these reasons could qualify as wrongful termination. “At will” employment, however, is a two way street. An employer can fire you without notice and you can just as easily quit without notice. This is frowned upon though and you should probably give your employer at least a 2 weeks notice.
Wrongful Termination Stories
Here are some examples of people who were fired from their jobs. The reasons for their firing might seem unfair. Under the law, the reasons were perfectly acceptable. Decide for yourself whether or not these are cases of wrongful termination.
Fired For Being Too Attractive
Normally, being attractive is viewed as an asset in life, but for Iowa dental assistant, Melissa Nelson, it wound up being the reason why she was fired. She was fired from a job that she had held for over 10 years. Her boss, Dr. James Knight, and his wife felt that Melissa needed to be fired in order to preserve their marriage.
Dr. Knight began to have sexual feelings toward Melissa and felt an affair would be inevitable. It didn’t seem to matter to him or his wife that Melissa was also married with no interest in having an affair. Melissa Nelson filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against Dr. James Knight. Was this a case of wrongful termination?
The case was dismissed by the judge before the trial. She then took her appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court but the justices ruled that an employee can be fired because “the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.” The justices came to the conclusion that being fired is justified if “the boss’ spouse views the relationship between the boss and the employee as a threat to her marriage.” The court viewed the threat to the relationship not to be related to gender.
Unknowingly Offending Someone
Michael Cuzzo was fired from his job as a field manager at a New Jersey Wawa convenience store after a customer complained about his use of a squirt toy called a Squirt Wee Boy. This toy is commonly used at hibachi restaurants and Cuzzo used it to clean customers’ side mirrors while pumping gas. Most customers found this humorous and many even requested he use it. However, the female passenger of one car he was pumping gas for became visibly upset by its use.
Michael Cuzzo apologized but the customer still complained to management. Cuzzo was fired that same day. He was known for his offbeat personality during his time with Wawa. Cuzzo did things like serving receipts on a silver platter and sometimes wore a tuxedo to work. Was this a case of wrongful termination?
Management knew that he was acting in ways that deviated from their standard practices but did nothing to reign him in. Wawa fired him in an instance that could’ve probably just deserve a warning. Wawa released a statement saying that their decision was not based on a single isolated incident and wouldn’t elaborate further on the reason for his termination.
Sending a Text Message
Bookkeeper Louise Nesbitt, of Australia, was fired after accidentally sending a text message to her boss. The text message was about her boss, in which she called him “a complete dick” and accidentally sent it to him instead of someone else. Louise Nesbitt tried to apologize to her boss, claiming that it was just her exaggerated sense of humor, but she was fired. Is this a case of wrongful termination?
Louise Nesbitt mad a claim with the Fair Work Commission that her firing was unjustified. Unfortunately for her, the commission agreed with her boss. They stated “to call a person a dick is a derogatory term to describe an idiot or fool. The word complete is used to convey the message that the person is without exception an idiot or fool.”
Ray Rice Wrongful Termination Case
Disgraced NFL player, Ray Rice, was able to settle his wrongful termination case. Ray Rice had violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy when he was caught on surveillance video beating his now wife Janay. His team at the time, the Baltimore Ravens, terminated his contract. The NFL commissioner, Rodger Goodell, banned him indefinitely. Is this really a case of wrongful termination?
An arbitrator overturned the ban and felt that the ban was an abuse of discretion. This leaves Ray Rice free to return to the NFL. Ray Rice was awarded $1.5 million out of the original $3.5 million he was seeking. He would’ve received that larger sum of money if he had played the remaining 14 games of the regular season.
Protect Yourself From Wrongful Termination
Because of “at will” employment, no one’s job is safe. Always document the circumstances under which you were fired. This includes who you talked to, what they said, and how they acted.
Keep a work journal. Document significant employment events. Some example of such events could be performance reviews, commendations, reprimands, salary changes, or even comments of approval or disapproval. Don’t forget to record the date, time, location, and who was present at any such employment event. These records can prove useful in the future, even if you don’t want to challenge the legality of your firing.
Also, ask to see your personnel file. Most states require employers to make this available to you upon request. Copy and review your file. This helps document whether other things were added to the file at a later day in an attempt to justify your firing after the fact.
Now for the most important piece of advice. If you feel like you’re a victim of wrongful termination, consult an attorney. An attorney will know the laws of your area and be able to determine whether or not you have a case of wrongful termination on your hands.
Also In Episode 33
Darren Sharper has been convicted of drugging and raping numerous women. The former NFL safety pled guilty to drugging and raping multiple women in California, Louisiana, Arizona, and Nevada. Sharper will serve 9 years in prison and will be subject to strict supervision once released. He will also have to undergo penis monitoring.
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