Wrongful Termination

What is Wrongful Termination?

One common question people have for employment lawyers is whether they were wrongfully terminated and have a legitimate case against their employers. Employment laws vary from state to state; however, several states, including Louisiana and Texas, follow an at-will employment policy. Generally, an employer can let certain employees go for a lawful reason without notice. It also means an employee can quit his or her job at any time. It is important to note that these laws have several exceptions and limitations. If an employer does not respect these limitations when letting an employee go, it could constitute wrongful termination.

What Counts as Wrongful Termination?

Despite at-will employment laws, an employer cannot terminate an employee based on discriminatory or retaliatory reasons. For instance, an employee cannot be fired for acting as a whistleblower. These actions can count as wrongful termination.

If an employee has been wrongfully terminated, he or she may be able to seek justice by taking legal action and filing a wrongful termination suit against his or her employer. Wrongful termination cases have significantly increased in frequency over the last two decades. Statistics report that wrongful termination lawsuits have risen 260% in the previous 20 years.

What are the Different Forms of Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination can cover several actions. It is a common misconception that wrongful termination can only occur if the victim’s employer fires him or her. However, wrongful termination can also include cases where the employer simply bullies or forces an employee to quit by making his or her work environment intolerable. Two common ways an employer can commit wrongful termination are:

Constructive Discharge

An employer doesn’t necessarily fire an employee outright to commit wrongful termination. If an employer creates a dangerous, harmful, or intolerant work environment that forces an employee to quit due to discrimination or sexual harassment, the employee could hold the employer responsible for wrongful termination. However, constructive discharge does not cover every situation and cannot be used simply because things at the office bother an individual.

An example of constructive discharge could be an employer constantly making offensive and discriminatory comments towards an employee based on race, gender, religion, or any other protected characteristic. The employer may also subject the employee to unreasonable work demands, such as unreasonable work hours or responsibilities, or purposely exclude them from important meetings or projects, making it difficult or impossible for them to perform their duties effectively. The hostile work environment and unreasonable demands make it so difficult for employees to continue working that they feel compelled to resign.

In this case, the employee would have a valid claim for constructive discharge (wrongful termination), as the employer’s actions made the work environment intolerable and forced the employee to resign.

Retaliatory Termination

It is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee because the employee filed a claim against the employer, claiming he or she was the victim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Also known as being a “whistleblower,” you cannot be fired for reporting an illegal act or being unwilling to commit an unlawful one. If you pursue a wrongful termination suit for retaliatory termination, you must establish that filing your complaint was directly linked to your firing.

For example, if an employee reports discrimination or harassment in the workplace and is then fired shortly after that, the termination may be considered retaliatory. Another example could be if an employee describes unsafe working conditions to the appropriate authorities and is fired.

To prove retaliatory termination, the employee must show that they engaged in protected activity, that their employer was aware of the protected activity, and that the ending was a direct result. The burden of proof is on the employee to establish that the termination was retaliatory and not due to poor performance or other legitimate reasons.

If the employee can prove that they were terminated in retaliation for engaging in protected activity, they may be entitled to damages, including lost wages, benefits, and emotional distress. The employee may also be reinstated to their former position.

Discriminatory Termination

Discriminatory Termination occurs when an employer fires an employee based on protected characteristics, such as race, gender, age, religion, or disability.

For instance, if an employer terminated an employee because they were pregnant, this would be an example of pregnancy discrimination and, therefore, a discriminatory termination.

It’s important to note that discriminatory terminations can take many forms and may not always be obvious. Employers may try to justify their actions with seemingly legitimate reasons, so it’s essential for employees who suspect discrimination to document any evidence that supports their claim and seek the advice of an experienced employment lawyer.

Violation of Public Policy

This occurs when an employer fires an employee for reasons that violate public policy, such as refusing to engage in illegal activities or reporting law violations.

An example of a violation of public policy would be if an employer fired an employee for engaging in a legally protected activity or refusing to engage in illegal conduct. For instance, if an employee reported workplace safety violations and were subsequently fired, this would be an example of wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

Another example could be if an employee were terminated for taking time off to serve on a jury. Most states have laws that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for serving on juries and firing an employee, for this reason, would be a violation of public policy.

Breach of Contract

This occurs when an employer terminates an employee in violation of the terms of their employment contract, including any implied or explicit promises made to the employee regarding job security, work conditions, or benefits.

For example, if an employee has a contract that specifies they can only be terminated for cause and the employer terminates the employee without a valid reason, this would be a breach of contract. Similarly, if an employer promised an employee-specific compensation or benefits and then terminated the employee without fulfilling that promise, this would also be a breach of contract.

What’s the most you can get for wrongful termination?

The amount a person can receive for a wrongful termination lawsuit varies depending on several factors, including the nature of the claim, the jurisdiction where the lawsuit is filed, the damages incurred by the plaintiff, and the strength of the evidence supporting the claim.

In general, damages for wrongful termination may include back pay (i.e., wages the employee would have earned if not wrongfully terminated), front pay (i.e., wages the employee would have earned in the future if not wrongfully terminated), compensatory damages (i.e., damages for emotional distress or other harm suffered by the employee), and punitive damages (i.e., damages intended to punish the employer for egregious conduct).

The damages awarded in a wrongful termination lawsuit can range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars, depending on the circumstances of the case. However, it’s important to note that legal fees and expenses are usually associated with filing a lawsuit, which can be significant. Additionally, some jurisdictions may place caps on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a wrongful termination case.

For example, Texas has limitations on the damages that can be awarded in a wrongful termination lawsuit. Specifically, Texas law limits the compensatory damages that can be awarded to the lower of two amounts: (1) two times the plaintiff’s economic damages plus the amount of non-economic damages up to $750,000; or (2) $200,000.

Additionally, Texas law does not permit punitive damages in most employment cases. Punitive damages are only allowed if the plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the employer acted with malice or reckless indifference to the plaintiff’s rights.

It’s worth noting that these limitations apply to wrongful termination cases brought under state law in Texas. Different rules and restrictions may apply if the case is brought under federal law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s always best to consult with an experienced employment lawyer familiar with the laws and regulations of the specific jurisdiction where the wrongful termination case will be filed to understand the potential limitations on damages.

What is Illegal Discrimination?

As an employee, you cannot lose your job due to certain traits protected under federal law. Any employer who hires or fires an employee based on origin, age, race, gender, religion, disability, or pregnancy is violating the law. If you believe you have lost your job for any of these reasons, you may be able to take action against your employer through a wrongful termination case with the help of an employment lawyer.

An employee who has been wrongfully terminated based on discriminatory reasons has the legal right to sue his or her employee for loss of wages, “fringe” benefits, and in some cases, even punitive damage.


It’s worth noting that the definition of public policy varies by jurisdiction and may include a range of legal protections, such as those related to workers’ compensation, discrimination, or whistleblowing. If an employee suspects that they were terminated in violation of public policy, they should seek the advice of an experienced employment lawyer. An attorney can determine whether they have a viable legal claim.

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