Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy
California is at at-will employment state, which means an employer generally can fire an employee for any reason with or without cause or notice as long as the reason is not an illegal reason. Illegal reasons include: discrimination, retaliation, harassment, reasons which violate public policy.
The elements of a wrongful termination in violation of public policy claim are:
(1) that the plaintiff was employed by the employer/defendant;
(2) defendant discharged the employee;
(3) the public policy interest was a substantial motivating reason for the employee's discharge;
(4) the employee was harmed;
(5) the discharge was a substantial factor in the employee's harm. (CACI Jury Instructions 2430).
An example of wrongfully terminating an employee because of discrimination can be as follows: A company fires a 12-year Filipino American employee of a company, who regularly received high marks on her performance evaluations and achieved her performance benchmarks after she gets a new manager. The new manager has made negative references to Asian Americans on a couple of occasions. The new manager treats the employee differently than non-Asians, such as excluding the 12-year employee from meetings in which all the other non-Asian employees in similar positions as her are invited. During these meetings, the new manager assigns some of the best assignments, which provides the non-Asian employees more opportunities to move up in the company. Ultimately, the new manager decides to give the 12-year employee a poor performance review even though the employee had performed well that term. The new manager gives all the non-Asian employees high performance reviews. The new manager fires the 12-year employee but retains all the other non-Asian employees.
An example of a wrongful termination in violation of the public policy of prohibiting retaliation in the workplace can be the same 12-year employee reporting to the company's Human Resources what she believed to be discrimination against her (i.e. the new manager's poor performance evaluation and subsequent termination). If the company fired the 12-year employee after she made that report of discrimination, it would be retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of the public policies of prohibiting retaliation and discrimination in the workplace.
Another example of an employee being terminated in violation of public policy can be if a company fires an employee who refuses to assist the company in illegal activity, such as committing fraud on its customers.