Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
If your reports of an employer’s illegalities or your refusal to engage in illegal acts led to your employment dismissal, this employment termination might be “wrongful.” Employees dismissed or fired in Pennsylvania for unconstitutional and discriminatory reasons or after speaking up about an employer’s illegal actions may be able to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Pennsylvania recognizes wrongful termination lawsuits regardless of whether you have an employment contract or not. However, it only allows claims based on public policy interest. While the legal standard in these cases is narrowly defined on certain protected public interests, with the right legal representation you can obtain compensation for your losses as a result of the wrongful discharge.
The Law Office of Andrew Shubin’s wrongful termination lawyers are committed to upholding the rights of employees whose legal protections are at stake. If you or someone you know was wrongfully dismissed or fired by their employer, contact our offices at (814) 826-3586 for a free case evaluation.
Legal Compensation for Wrongful Termination in State College, Pennsylvania
Indefensible and unjustified actions characterize wrongful conduct. In legal terms, wrongful discharge is generally recognized under tort law. It is an injurious action of an employer who fires an employee in violation of a public or private interest, similar to retaliatory actions against whistleblowers. There are a wide variety of ways in which employees get fired for reporting abuses, illegal activities, and other protected acts. The difference here is that federal whistleblower protections are not viable against private employers. Whistleblower laws don’t apply to private corporations and different types of private institutions that do not receive federal funds.
It’s disheartening when employees who are not protected by federal whistleblower laws find themselves without legal recourse. However, Pennsylvania residents can rely on the jurisprudence of wrongful termination protection. A successful action for wrongful discharge requires the following elements:
- The employee’s conduct is protected by a clearly defined public policy
- Dismissing the employee would jeopardize or undermine public policy
- A causal link exists between the employee’s behavior and the discharge indicating that the termination relates to participating in protected activities.
Your attorney can explain in further detail how the elements above relate to your circumstances. A wrongfully terminated employee can seek financial recovery for lost wages and other recognized losses or injuries. Your financial compensation will depend on multiple factors, including:
- Lost wages
- Harm to your reputation
- Pain and suffering caused by the wrongful dismissal
Depending on your circumstances, your attorney can give you a more concrete sense about the types of damages for your injury available in your specific situation.
Common Examples of Wrongful Termination in Pennsylvania
Employees in Pennsylvania are usually “at-will” employees, meaning that they can quit at any time and be fired at any time without having to provide a reason. This helps employees remain flexible to leave bad work situations. It also means that you can essentially be fired for virtually any reason or for no reason – there is no need for an employer to provide good cause for firing you, such as tardiness or insubordination. However, the reason for firing you must be a legal one, and you cannot be fired on the basis of discrimination or other improper purposes. The following situations are common examples of wrongful termination that our wrongful termination lawyers can assist you with:
There are multiple classes of people protected under state and federal law. Generally, discriminatory firings are illegal if the employer discriminates based on sex, race, color, religion, or country of origin. What is included in each of these categories is sometimes a legal question that might not have settled law. For example, is gender included under sex discrimination? Does protection from religious discrimination include protection for non-religious people and atheists?
Protections against age discrimination and disability discrimination also exist, but these have a lot more exceptions because these issues can call into question the worker’s ability to adequately perform the job at hand. For example, if the job requires workers to be able to climb a ladder, then a wheelchair user might not be able to perform the job functions. Often, disabilities and health issues from age must be reasonably accommodated before an employer can turn to termination.
Sometimes reasonably religious accommodations are also warranted, and an employee should not be fired when reasonable accommodations could be implemented instead.
Sexual Harassment and Refusal of Sexual Advances
Sexual harassment in the workplace usually comes in two forms: quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when favors or work benefits are given in exchange for a demand for sexual favors, and hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when a worker is made to feel unsafe because of sexual advances and comments. Both examples of sexual harassment also constitute sex discrimination and can put a company in serious legal trouble.
Firing someone because they were the victim of sexual harassment is patently illegal and also constitutes sex discrimination. Businesses should instead terminate the perpetrator of the harassment, not blame the victim or fire them. Similarly, firing someone for refusing sexual advances is also illegal and discriminatory.
Employers cannot fire you as retaliation for you exercising your rights. This commonly occurs after an initial discrimination complaint or sexual harassment claim where the employer then seeks to punish the victim for speaking up or advocating for themselves.
Retaliatory firings are also illegal in the context of free speech, but only when the employer is a government entity. For example, a private company can fire you for going to a protest on your own time or for writing a letter published in the local paper that comments on unrelated political matters. However, the government cannot, and First Amendment retaliatory firings usually constitute wrongful termination if your employer is a state or local government office.
If you are fired for an innocuous or meaningless reason, but you believe that that is merely a coverup for the actual cause of your termination, you might be entitled to a wrongful termination claim. Many times, employers use pretextual reasons like tardiness or slightly low performance to fire workers for discriminatory reasons. These excuses might also be used to fire someone for a retaliatory reason, e.g., to shut down a discrimination claim.
In some cases, these claims can be very difficult to pursue because the pretextual reason for firing might be legally valid. Without proof that it was actually pretextual, you might not be able to succeed in your claim for wrongful termination. However, emails and testimony about closed-door conversations could show that your employer was truly just coming up with excuses to fire you.
Public Policy Basis in Pennsylvania
Public policy is a course of action favored by society because it is supposed to benefit everyone. Pennsylvania generally recognizes wrongful termination when the discharge violates a public policy strictly defined by its jurisprudence. Jurisprudence consists of a body of court decisions evaluating situations and interpreting legal concepts accordingly. The legal concept of public policy exceptions is typically decided over time as cases reach the courts and questions of law create a precedent or legal standard.
There is a strong public policy in Pennsylvania against dismissals driven by illegal statutory violations or self-dealing motives. It is expressly prohibited to ask an employee to partake in a crime, then subsequently fire the employee upon refusal. Some of the public policy exceptions recognized by Pennsylvania courts include wrongful termination for:
- Filing a worker’s compensation claim
- Filing an unemployment compensation claim
- Refusing to submit to a polygraph test
- Serving on jury duty or other mandatory public functions
- Refusal to commit perjury
If your circumstances don’t appear to meet the standard, you should still look into your available options. Jurisprudence on public policy concepts tends to be organic in that it is frequently subject to judicial interpretation. Such interpretations are typically seen when there is judicial review of protected activities analogous to previously recognized wrongful discharge. Experienced lawyers can advocate by drawing sharp analogies with previous legal cases and telling your side the story effectively.
Wrongful Termination in Violation of Employment Contract
There are instances when wrongful termination can be substantiated in a contractual provision violation. A qualified attorney can review your contract to determine if there are possible causes of action you can pursue. Employment contracts typically contain legalese or convoluted legal terminology an attorney is best qualified to review.
Many workers work on a contract basis because of the job security it provides. These contracts state how long the employment will last, and the contract details limited reasons the employee can be fired for. These contracts often provide a heightened standard for firing someone, such as a requirement that any firing be “for cause.”
Employment contracts work both ways, and many employees are ultimately terminated because of something they did to breach the contract – but sometimes employers fail to follow the terms of their own contracts. If your employer stepped beyond the language of the contract and fired you for something that does not, in fact, violate your contract or constitute “cause” for firing, then your employment contract can help protect you.
Keep in mind that most workers in Pennsylvania are at-will employees and do not have contracts. An employee handbook does not typically constitute a contract, and employers are not necessarily beholden to the terms of these handbooks. Even if you signed paperwork when you started your job, it is not necessarily an employment contract. Instead, your signature might have only shown that you understood the terms in the handbook or that you understood the salary and benefits you were being offered. Proving that you had a contract in the first place will be one of the most important hurdles when trying to fight a wrongful termination under an employment contract.
Overcoming the Presumption of At-Will Employees and Independent Contractors
As mentioned, it is presumed that employees in Pennsylvania are at-will employees. An at-will employee typically can be terminated at any time. Under Pennsylvania law, an at-will employee may be terminated for any cause – that is, “for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all.” Hershberger v. Jersey Shore Steel Co. (1990). This broad standard gives employers great discretion over termination decisions.
At-will employees can be fired for personal disagreements, issues about fitting into the “culture” of a workplace, or even for something unbecoming or insulting said to a coworker. Strictly speaking, employees can even be fired just because the boss does not like them. However, if you are not an at-will employee and are governed by an employment contract, then this standard should not apply, and your employer might need cause to fire you. Firing you without cause would therefore be wrongful termination.
When it comes to valid reasons to fire an at-will employee, discrimination is never valid. If you were fired because of discrimination, and the “reason” given was merely pretextual, then you might also have a claim for wrongful termination.
At-will employees who comply with a statutory duty cannot be subsequently terminated for following the law. This rule applies equally to independent contractors. An independent contractor may bring a wrongful termination claim on the grounds that their termination violated public policy as well.
Independent contractors also typically have stronger protections since they are not employees beholden to the at-will termination setup. A contract with a client might include a clause for liquidated damages or require certain processes or cause for termination as well.
Penn State College Wrongful Termination Lawyers Fighting for Your Rights
The accomplished legal team at the law offices of Andrew Shubin understands the intricate concepts involved in actions for wrongful termination. They are known for providing quality legal advice and for their commitment to seeing the case through. To maximize your ability to seek financial compensation, we will accurately ascertain your losses. Moreover, you will not be responsible for legal fees unless we obtain a monetary award or a reasonable settlement. Call our offices at (814) 826-3586 to schedule a free and confidential consultation today.