When workers are fired, laid off, or otherwise discharged for unlawful reasons, they are victims of wrongful termination. Massachusetts employees who are wrongfully terminated may seek justice by availing themselves of protections under both federal and state laws. Problem with your employer? Reach out to experienced wrongful termination lawyers at Gordon Law Group today by calling (800) 403-7755 or by completing our online contact form.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Termination?
Holding an employer accountable for wrongful termination in Massachusetts isn’t an easy or straightforward process. The discriminatory or retaliatory nature of the circumstances leading to a
wrongful termination can be difficult to prove.
Broadly speaking, wrongful termination is any firing, layoff, or discharge scenario that occurs under unlawful circumstances. Most of the time, a termination is classified as wrongful if it involved conduct that is considered unlawfully discriminatory or retaliatory as defined by federal and/or state law.
There are a number of federal and state laws that define what it means for employer conduct to be unlawfully discriminatory or retaliatory. At the federal level, wrongfully terminated employees often file claims related to infringement of their rights as articulated by the following laws:
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) – Prohibits employers from discriminating against workers (40 years of age and older) due to age and prohibits retaliation related to an employee’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about age-based discrimination and/or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Prohibits discrimination against employees as a result of their disabilities and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for otherwise qualified workers unless doing so would create an undue hardship for their business. This law also prohibits retaliation based on a worker’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about disability-based discrimination or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.
- Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) – Prohibits retaliation related to an employee’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about pay-based discrimination or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) – Prohibits discrimination against a worker due to their genetic information and prohibits retaliation related to an employee’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about genetics-based discrimination or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) – Prohibits discrimination on the basis of color, national origin, pregnancy (as well as childbirth and medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth), race, religion, and sex. This law also prohibits retaliation based on a worker’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about unlawful discrimination or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.
Employees are also protected, generally at both the state and federal levels, from termination based on their exercise of a legally-protected right. For example, federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who have taken a protected leave of absence per the terms of the Family and Medical Leave Act. In Massachusetts, state law prohibits the same kind of retaliatory conduct per the terms of the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave statute.
Additionally, wrongfully terminated employees in Massachusetts often assert their rights as articulated by the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act. This law, which applies to all employers operating in the state of Massachusetts that have at least six employees on their payroll, prohibits discrimination based on the following:
- Gender Identity
- National Origin
- Religious Creed
- Sexual Orientation
If you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you can potentially seek redress at both the federal and state level.
Can Wrongfully Terminated Employees Sue?
Workers who have been wrongfully terminated are generally empowered to sue their employers as a result of the mistreatment they’ve suffered. However, there are specific processes and protocols that must be followed before a wrongfully terminated worker can obtain redress.
Most of the time, the process of suing an employer begins when a worker schedules a confidential legal consultation with an attorney experienced in the area of employment law. The attorney will then assist the worker in filing a discrimination or retaliation complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will then conduct its own investigation and determine whether it wants to sue the employer on the worker’s behalf or issue the worker a “right to sue” release that will allow them to proceed on their own.
While the EEOC is investigating your complaint, your attorney will likely begin the process of filing a lawsuit in Massachusetts state court. Be advised that you are only granted 30 days after the date upon which you were wrongfully terminated to file a lawsuit in Massachusetts state court unless an exception to this statute of limitations applies in your case. This means that you’ll be barred from seeking compensation at the state level if you don’t act at once to protect your rights and preserve your legal options.
What If a Severance Offer Has Been Made?
If you’ve been offered severance and you believe that you’ve been terminated under unlawful conditions, don’t accept the terms of the offer until an attorney has thoroughly reviewed the circumstances of your case with you. You’ll want to schedule a confidential legal consultation quickly, as your employer has probably only given you a few days to review, accept, or reject the offer.
When employees accept the terms of a severance offer, they generally sign away their rights to sue their employer at any time in the future. This means that, if you accept this offer, you might lose your right to hold your employer accountable for your mistreatment and lose your right to pursue any additional compensation that you might be rightfully owed.
Sometimes, it makes sense to accept the terms of a severance offer. If, for whatever reason, your case would be nearly impossible to prove, accepting the terms offered may be in your best interests. However, you won’t know for sure whether you’re in a strong position to sue or whether you should take the severance offer you’ve been extended until an attorney has advised you of your rights and options. Additionally, it’s important to have a lawyer review the “fine print” in severance contracts, as there may be relatively hidden terms that could impact your ability to seek gainful employment in your industry while working close to home for a while.
Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee in violation of the law or in breach of their contract. Holding an employer accountable is the job of a good lawyer, and even though most states have employment-at-will laws, there are many tools in the fight, ranging from laws against discrimination to those that prohibit retaliation. Regardless of the cause, wrongful termination can have severe consequences for an employee, including loss of income, damaged reputation and emotional distress. In this blog post, we will discuss the top ten forms of wrongful termination we typically see:
- Discrimination – One of the most common examples of wrongful termination is discrimination. This occurs when an employer terminates an employee due to that employee’s race, gender, religion, age, national origin, or pregnancy or disability. In other words, the employer is singling that employee out because of what the employee looks like, where they come from or their health. The laws prohibiting discrimination vary widely – much like the varying forms of discrimination – and in many cases, the laws are very strong, especially when discrimination reaches the point of wrongful termination.
- Retaliation – Retaliation is another common example of wrongful termination. It happens most often when an employer terminates an employee from their job because that person has engaged in protected activity, such as reporting sexual harassment or discrimination, making a claim for medical relief or pregnancy leave, participating in a union, or whistleblowing. This is a seriously troubling form of wrongful termination, because it affects not only those who suffer from discrimination or harassment, but also those who stand up to help. In other words, employees who witness bad acts at the workplace often report those problems – “see something say something” policies. The good news for those who speak up? Employers may not intimidate or retaliate against the witness. Anti-retaliation laws protect people who stand up for themselves, as well as witnesses and people who stand up for others, too.
- Disability Discrimination and Failure to Accommodate – Disability discrimination or an employer’s failure to accommodate an employee’s reasonable medical necessity is another common form of workplace violation that often results in wrongful termination. This happens most often after an employee requests an accommodation to account for some disability or injury. Often, employers terminate the employee making the request, rather than go through the trouble of having dialogue and determining a reasonable accommodation or just giving the employee time away from work to manage the condition. Disability discrimination is often among the most troubling forms of wrongful termination as the terminated employee faces the triple of (1) being out of work without income, (2) having lower prospects of finding work because of the disability itself, and (3) dealing with the disability.
- Wage and Hour Violations – Retaliation following an employee’s complaint of non-payment of earned wages often leads to another form of wrongful termination. In these cases, an employee will complain that they haven’t received their earned wages, typically overtime, commissions or prevailing wage payments. In response, the employer chooses to terminate the employee, often failing to even pay the underlying wages. Terminating an employee for raising a complaint that the employer has failed to pay wages is unlawful retaliation, otherwise known as wrongful termination.
- FMLA Retaliation – the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical and family reasons. Employers are prohibited from terminating employees who take FMLA leave or retaliating against them for doing so. The good news here is that the protections extend not only to employees who need to take time away for their own medical needs, but also to those who need time off to take care of a family member.
- Workers Compensation Retaliation – Workers’ compensation laws protect employees who get injured on the job. Unfortunately, many employers terminate injured employees in retaliation for applying for workers compensation. That is wrongful termination, and it hits employees at their most vulnerable moments. They’ve been hurt on the job, and need pay because they cannot go to work.
- Sexual Harassment Retaliation– Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that involves unwanted sexual advances, comments, or conduct. Employers are required to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment retaliation occurs when an employer terminates an employee who reports sexual harassment or participate in investigations related to it. In other words, rather than punish the perpetrator, the employer gets rid of the victim. That is wrongful termination, and the law protects against that.
- Equal Pay Act Violations and Retaliation – Prohibits retaliation related to an employee’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about pay-based discrimination or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.In other words, an employee raises issues that they’re not being paid equally to others in the workforce (typically other men), and rather than fix the problem, the employer simply fires the woman for complaining.
- Genetic Information Nondiscrimination – Prohibits discrimination against a worker due to their genetic information and prohibits retaliation related to an employee’s exercise of their rights related to complaining about genetics-based discrimination or participation in discrimination-based investigations and lawsuits.
- Public Policy Violations– Public policy violation occurs when an employer terminates an employee’s job for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting a violation of the law or refusing to participate in illegal activity.
One more note on wrongful termination. In some cases the employer does not formally terminate the employee, but rather makes the working conditions so intolerable that an employee has no choice but to quit. An employer who does that is responsible just as though they terminated the employee. That is constructive discharge.
Connect With a Massachusetts Wrongful Termination Lawyer Today to Learn More
If you suspect that you have a wrongful termination lawsuit on your hands, you have no time to waste. Get in touch with the experienced wrongful termination lawyers at Gordon Law Group today by calling (800) 403-7755 or by completing our online contact form today. Our Boston employment lawyers can help protect the strength, integrity, and overall value of your wrongful termination case.