How do I prove Wrongful Termination in Texas?
Because Texas is an “employment at-will” state, an employer can fire an employee at any time for any lawful reason. Any lawful reason for termination may include a bad reason or no reason at all. However, if an employer fires an employee for an unlawful reason, this is referred to as wrongful termination and can lead to a legal claim. There are many illegal reasons to fire someone, as defined under a multitude of federal and state laws. Wrongful termination cases in Texas can nevertheless be complicated and difficult to prove, with many factors being used to determine whether an employee will win compensation. Gathering all of the necessary evidence, proving each of the elements for a wrongful termination lawsuit, and filing documents with the correct government agency are each vital steps to take in this process.
Some of the most common illegal types of terminations are based on discrimination (e.g., race, sex, disability, pregnancy, age, military or veteran status etc.) and retaliation for complaining about discrimination. Other common unlawful reasons for termination may be based on an employee filing an overtime wage claim, filing a workers’ compensation claim, or their refusal to perform an illegal act. A few of the major federal laws that define illegal reasons for an employer to fire an employee include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.
What do I do if I think I have been wrongfully terminated based on discrimination or retaliation?
It’s imperative that an employee wrongfully terminated in Texas make a claim within the time period required by the statutes of limitations; otherwise, they will lose their right to pursue compensation. A statute of limitations is the amount of time that the employee has to file a lawsuit after they suffered the harm at issue. With nearly all wrongful termination cases, the statute of limitations will start on the date of the employee’s termination. In most cases, the statute of limitations is 180 days from the date of termination for filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), although this limit may extend to 300 days from the termination date on some occasions.
To prove wrongful termination, an employee will first need to provide evidence that an employment relationship existed between them and their employer, and that their employer indeed terminated them or that their employment was “constructively” terminated. Constructive discharge occurs when an employer makes working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced to resign, instead of the employee simply being fired. It’s worth noting however that courts will look at whether a reasonable person would find working conditions to be unusually egregious and adverse, rather than looking solely at the employee’s subjective belief that these conditions are indeed intolerable. With a constructive discharge, the employee’s resignation would be treated the same as a termination, as the employment relationship is in effect terminated involuntarily by the employer’s unlawful conduct.
As mentioned above, proving a wrongful termination can be difficult. Employers are not inclined to admit to an illegal motive for firing an employee, as doing so would directly expose them to legal liability. Instead, employers will try to justify a termination by putting forward a seemingly nondiscriminatory reason for termination in an effort to hide their true, unlawful reason. It is therefore crucial that an employee present good evidence to reveal their employer’s genuine discriminatory intentions and prevail successfully on their wrongful termination claim. It is not enough for an employee to just feel that their termination was “wrongful,” even if it was effectuated without good cause or for a particularly arbitrary reason. For a wrongful termination, an employee must be fired for an illegal reason, which can include violation of anti-discrimination laws or a contractual breach.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination based on Discrimination?
Most cases of wrongful termination are associated with discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or age. To have a wrongful termination case based on such discrimination at first impression, an employee must (1) belong to a protected class; (2) have their job performance meet their employer’s legitimate expectations; (3) have suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) have similarly situated employees not in their protected class receive more favorable treatment from the employer.
If an employee can provide evidence to support all four of these requirements, then their employer will be tasked with articulating a legitimate business reason for the employee’s termination. If the employer does this, then the burden of proof will shift back to the employee to show that their placement in a protected category was in fact a “motivating factor” for their discriminatory termination. Lastly, the burden will again return to the employer to prove that it would’ve reached the same decision to terminate the employee even without their placement in a protected category. A wrongful termination suit in Texas may also take shape through retaliation, which is where an employer takes adverse action against an employee for engaging in certain activities protected under law, such as informing them of sexual harassment or seeking to form a labor union. Other forms of protected activities include taking medical leave, attending jury duty, serving in the military, or participating in an official investigation into the employer’s practices.
What Qualifies as Wrongful Termination based on Retaliation?
To have a wrongful termination case based on retaliation at first impression, an employee must (1) engage in protected activity; (2) have suffered an adverse employment action (i.e., termination); and (3) establish a causal connection between the protected activity and their termination. Like discrimination cases, the employer can defend the termination with a legitimate reason for the action and the employee will need to respond by showing that such a reason is pretextual and that retaliation was indeed the reason for their termination.
Being fired from your job is never a pleasant experience, and being terminated for an unlawful reason can make matters feel even worse. Fortunately, the employment at-will doctrine utilized in Texas and nearly every other U.S. state does not act as an absolute shield for employers. An illegal reason for a termination may result in a recovery for damages in a wrongful termination case, which may include compensation such as back pay, future pay, mental anguish damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.
What should you do if you feel you have been Wrongfully Terminated in Texas?
The first thing you should do is speak with an experienced employment attorney if you feel you have been wrongfully terminated. Ross Scalise Employment Lawyers believes in fighting for employees who have been terminated wrongfully.