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How To File A California Wrongful Termination Claim In 2023

Updated: Jul 12

A Guide To California Wrongful Termination Claims And Legal Options To Protect Your Employee Rights.

California wrongful termination is an ongoing problem for thousands of employees. Losing a job is a terrible experience for anyone, but losing a job because of wrongful termination is far worse. Your reputation, as well as your current and future financial security, are on the line. Wrongful termination lawyers in Los Angeles assist people to determine if state or federal laws were violated before filing a claim.


You've probably seen some of the biggest wrongful termination settlements in California all over the news in recent years. Knowing how to handle your claim from the start it's paramount to the outcome of your lawsuit.

There are deadlines for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit in California. It's important that you file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as soon as possible. It's equally important to seek legal advice with a pre-screened California wrongful termination lawyer to ensure that you meet these deadlines.


California Wrongful Termination & The California Labor Law

It is illegal for an employer to illegally "discharge or terminate" employees under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the New Parent Leave Act are two more pieces of legislation that may apply (NPLA).


By "wrongful," is it usually implied that an employee is not hired, promoted, or terminated because of their protected class status based on:

  • The FEHA, which is codified in Cal. Gov. Code 12900 et seq. applies to employers with five or more employees unless they are the employer's parents, spouse, or child.

  • Religious organizations and corporations that are not organized for private profit are likewise exempt from the statute.

Wrongful termination laws in California prohibit discrimination in all sorts of commercial operations. As a result, an employer cannot discriminate based on a protected group.

Some examples of these discriminatory actions include:

Discrimination is not permitted in any of the following situations:

  • Screening, applications, and interviews are all part of the process.

  • Recruiting, relocating, promoting, separating, or terminating employees.

  • Participation in an apprenticeship or training program and membership in a labor union or other employee organization.

  • Terms of employment, including pay, assignments, etc.

Wrongful termination in California can occur for various reasons, not just because of discrimination. For example, if you were fired for the following reasons, you might have been unfairly terminated:

  • As a result of your political ideas, you've been discriminated against.

  • Because you are a whistleblower, you have been retaliated against.

  • Because you complained about unpaid wages, health and safety issues, or Labor Code violations, you were retaliated against.

  • Because the working circumstances were unpleasant or dangerous, I decided to leave (known as constructive termination)

  • Workers who were laid off in a mass layoff were not given a 60-day notice, as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act).

In any of these scenarios, you have grounds for a Wrongful Termination Claim. Getting a California Employment Attorney will make it easier for you to gather evidence, file claims to the proper agencies, and take things to court when your lawyer and your employer can't settle the issue.

What Are Your Employee Rights In California?


California is a state where "at-will" employees can be fired at any time. This means that, lacking a contract, agreement, or exception to a statute or policy, employers throughout California have the right to fire an employee at any time for any cause.


However, employees believe that because an employer can fire them for any reason and at any moment, it doesn't matter if it's because you just told your boss you're pregnant or because you requested fair accommodations for your disability.


It does, however, matter.


To some extent, the ability to fire anyone at any time is restricted. When you are a member above-mentioned protected classes, you are protected from being fired solely because of your protected status. You are also protected if you are a whistleblower or file a complaint regarding underpaid wages, inadequate health and safety management, or violations of the Labor Code.


All workers have access to these safeguards, which include:

  • Employees who are paid by the hour

  • Employees that are paid a salary

  • Contractual workers

Just because you are an "at-will" worker doesn't mean you can't be fired for illegal reasons. Thus, regardless if you're working at will or a regular employee, you cannot be fired for reasons listed under EEOC and FEHA.

Worker Protections Under The FEHA

Employees in California are protected from retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) if they do any of the following:

  • Oppose harassment, discrimination in the workplace, and an employer's inability to give required pregnancy/family leave.

  • Make a harassment or discrimination complaint.

  • Participating in, assisting with, or testifying in any FEHA-related proceeding.

  • Request adjustments at work because of their religious beliefs, observances, or disability.

  • FEHA retaliation occurs under California employment law if an employee's participation in any of the foregoing activities is a primary motivating cause for adverse employment conduct against that employee or unfair treatment by that employee.

Retaliation in the Workplace Due to the False Claims Act

It is also prohibited for businesses to retaliate against employees who use their rights under the California False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, employees in California can initiate a "qui tam" case against an employer who is committing fraud, bribery, or theft of government funds. (When a private citizen sues on behalf of a government entity, this is known as a "qui tam" case.)

The California False Claims Act's workplace retaliation provisions prohibit your employer from retaliating against you if you:

  • Bring a qui tam case against the company (or if you help in some way with a qui tam suit)

  • You don't want to break the California False Claims Act.

California Wrongful Termination As A Form Of Retaliation


Retaliation is when an employer tries to get back at you for reporting them to the proper agencies. For example, if you reported wrongdoing, workplace hazards, and employment discrimination, and your employer fired you for it, it is a Wrongful Termination done in retaliation for exercising your rights.


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Your managers cannot retaliate against employees who complain about their supervisors in California. Any violation of established worker protections should be reported to the appropriate authorities:

  • Retaliation for raising an objection, filing a complaint, or participating in an investigation.

  • Make a request for a reasonable accommodation based on your disability or religious beliefs.

  • Filing or helping in a California False Claims Act "qui tam" action.

These anti-retaliation workplace standards address a significant void in California employment law. As a result, employees who do not lose their jobs but instead face discrimination, harassment, or other forms of retaliation at work may have a more challenging time getting legal help.


Employees facing retribution from their employers for exercising their rights under these laws have legal recourse under California's whistleblower legislation and retaliation laws ("FEHA").

What Signs Are The Signs Of Retaliation?

In California, the following is the basic legal definition of workplace retaliation: Because you engaged in a protected practice, your employer takes punitive action against you or mistreats you.

Assume your employer retaliates against you for exercising your legal rights by making your working conditions intolerable, forcing you to leave. In that case, you may be eligible to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer.


On the other hand, other types of workplace retaliation can be more subtle–and hence harder to spot. The following are some obvious signs that your boss is retaliating against you:

  • Even though your past ratings were positive, you began to receive negative performance evaluations.

  • Your to-do lists and job projects have increased unexpectedly.

  • You've been assigned to shifts that are physically taxing or mentally draining.

  • Your bosses keep you out of meetings and communications, making it impossible for you to complete your task.

  • You've been passed over for a promotion or increase to which you believe you're entitled.

  • Because of misleading claims or a lack of evidence, you're facing disciplinary action.

  • You have been denied access to services or training that could help you maintain a high standard of work or advance in your field.

If you've been retaliated against, or if your wrongful termination had been an act of retaliation, you should be consulting with a vetted Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney. Your lawyer should be able to tell the exact legal consequences of your unfair firing, including the laws and the employment rights that were violated.

What Can You Get From A Successful Wrongful Termination Settlement?

Employees in California who have been unlawfully terminated have several options. You might have the grounds to claim for the following damages:

  • Lost earnings (back pay)

  • Future earnings (front pay)

  • You can either get reinstated or get hired (if not hired before)

  • Expenses paid out of pocket (including lawyer fees, etc.)

  • Changes in company policy (if discrimination was based on a policy)

  • Training (to educate employer and employees on wrongful termination)

  • Accommodation (for example, in cases where discrimination is based on a medical condition or disability)

  • Monetary compensation for emotional distress

  • Punitive damages (when the discrimination and harassment is so egregious)

If you're worried about the legal cost, remember that fighting for your rights can get you payable damages in California. When successful, you can even claim lawyer's fees.

Consulting with a pre-screened Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney makes sense to help you identify labor laws applicable to your claim.

How Do You File A Wrongful Termination Claim In California?


The specific details of your case can influence the process it will take to file and investigate your claims. Having a Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer can help you sort through all the documentation, investigations, discovery, and other legal processes you must go through.

If your claim for wrongful termination is based on discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, you will almost certainly need to file a pre-complaint investigation with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You can ask the DFEH to do the following through this filing:

  • Examine and resolve your claim

  • Send you a notice of your right to sue, allowing you to take your case to court

Related agencies can settle some employment cases. However, if DFEH won't take your case, you can be given permission to sue your lawyer. Hence, you must first go to the agency, even if you're looking to sue them.

If you believe your wrongful termination was caused by a breach of contract or a violation of public policy, you can file a complaint in the relevant state court.

The employer and any other adverse party must be served the complaint once it has been filed in the appropriate court, under California Rules of Civil Procedure:

  • The claim will be filed in court, and the employer will be given the right to respond to the allegation.

  • Hearings will be scheduled, and the discovery phase will allow you and your attorney to ask the employer for specific documentation and admissions.

  • The employer will be given the same chance.

If no settlement is achieved, the case may be sent to trial. Everything will depend on the facts and circumstances, and a trial may yield a better result than a settlement. However, because a jury can be unpredictable, there are always risks associated with a trial.

If you're a little confused, you should talk to your Los Angeles Employment Attorneys about the best possibilities for you.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Wrongful Termination Claims In California?


You have two years to file a wrongful termination complaint in most cases. However, the wrongful termination statute of limitations in California varies depending on the type of action filed:

  • If you were unlawfully terminated due to discrimination based on a protected class or were harassed, you have one (1) year from the day of termination to file a claim with the DFEH.

  • If the DFEH did not resolve the matter or give a right-to-sue notice, you have an additional ninety (90) days from the date the DFEH ruled to file a lawsuit in state court.

  • If you were unlawfully terminated in breach of public policy while engaging in protected conduct, you have two (2) years from the day of your wrongful termination to file a claim (e.g., filing an employment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is a protected act).

  • You have two years to sue if an oral or implied contract is broken.

  • If a written contract is broken, you have four years to sue.

Your labor law claim will be dismissed if you do not file within the applicable statute of limitations. However, you may be qualified for an exception only if severe or exceptional circumstances exist. Therefore, it's critical to choose an experienced California Employment Lawyer who can make sure your paperwork is filed on time.


What You Must Prove To Win A California Wrongful Termination Claim?

What you need to prove to win your wrongful termination case is determined by the circumstances of your wrongful termination. You'll have to show that you can:

  • There was a signed contract.

  • Your boss terminated your job.

  • You had no choice but to leave.

  • The decision to terminate or constructively discharge was made unlawfully.

In discrimination claims, you must prove that you are a protected class member and that your termination was caused by the latter.

You must establish that you were fired for one of the following grounds in public policy violation cases:

  • Report of a policy violation (the public gains from the reporting)

  • You're fulfilling a legal obligation

  • You are exercising a constitutional right


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In harassment situations, you must establish that you were fired due to a harassment complaint. In addition, you must prove that the termination was due to a breach of contract in violation of contract situations.

The circumstances, timeline, and facts, as well as the nature of your wrongful termination case, will determine how you prove your case. Therefore, it's critical to keep track of what's going on in the office, including names of key players and copies of pertinent documents.

Your Los Angeles Employment Law Attorney can do separate investigations for you, including looking for witnesses, compiling employment documents, etc. Your lawyer is also your representative, so they can do any necessary work related to the claim during times when you're not required to be there.

That said, you can reduce the amount of stress you have to go through and leave everything to your lawyer.

What Is Constructive Discharge?

What happens when your boss doesn't fire you but makes it absolutely unbearable to go to work? What happens when you're constantly harassed, mistreated, and insulted to the point where you just quit?

Constructive discharge occurs when an employer makes working conditions so unpleasant for an employee that they have no choice but to leave.

To be successful, employees must demonstrate that their working conditions were so bad that they resigned. They must also show that their employer either intended for the employee to resign or was aware of the undesirable working conditions and refused to remedy them.


Here are a few examples of conditions at work that could lead to a constructive discharge claim:

  • Your boss has reduced your working hours, which might decrease your wage.

  • Your pay was slashed without warning or justification.

  • Your employer doesn't do anything about the harassment you're experiencing even though you approached and informed HR about it.

  • Your boss encouraged you to resign or retire because of persistent workplace bullying.

It's crucial to remember that quitting rather than being fired due to poor working conditions may result in the loss of several benefits provided to terminated employees, such as unemployment insurance and the right to sue your employer for wrongful termination.


Consult the best employment lawyers in Los Angeles to know about your possible legal and settlement options when this happens.

Who Can You Blame For Hostile Work Environments?

The employer's job is to eliminate workplace tensions and ensure that every employee arrives at work in a safe and pleasant setting. California employees are protected from hostile workplace discrimination under state law. The law also covers those who aren't employees, such as:

  • Interns who aren't paid yet

  • Volunteers

  • Those looking for work

  • Contractors who work for themselves

When employees covered by California law are subjected to a hostile work environment, who is to blame?

To start, companies might be held accountable for their employees' hostile work situations. If the bully was a manager, the manager might be held completely responsible for the hostile work environment.


Employers may be held liable if a non-supervisory employee creates a hostile work environment. If the employee isn't a boss, the firm is liable if they were aware of the situation (or should have been aware of it) and failed to take prompt and reasonable corrective action."


Employers can also be held responsible for hostile work environments by non-employees. An employer will be held liable for the actions of a non-employee if the following conditions are met:

  • The employer was aware or should have been aware that the employees' inaction put them at risk of abuse.

  • The employer failed to take preventative or corrective measures promptly and effectively.

  • The right to take such action was entirely the employer's responsibility.

An employee might have a difficult time using their employer under this standard if the actions of a non-employee produced a hostile work environment.


Additionally, anyone who participated in, assisted in, or encouraged bullying behavior might be held liable to the employee for creating a hostile workplace.

Your California Employment Law Attorney might be able to help you collect evidence to prove that you have been severely mistreated at work, leading to your quitting.

How Can I Prove That I Have Been Subjected To Constructive Discharge?

If you want to persuade a court that you were forced to leave your job due to hostile working conditions, learn what California employment law defines as unacceptable working conditions. For example, you might be able to file a complaint if your boss is frequently abusing you, shouting at you, or criticizing you.


It may be challenging to demonstrate constructive discharge. However, to prove constructive discharge under California labor law, an employee must be able to show the following:

  • Workplace conditions had become terrible, causing any sensible person to resign.

  • Either the employer was aware of the appalling working circumstances and allowed them to continue on purpose, or the employer's intentions were to compel the employee to leave.

  • You must also declare that the abovementioned incidents occurred reasonably after leaving work. To guarantee that you have a viable claim, your employment lawyer may need to assist you in demonstrating your case.

Employees commonly misinterpret regular job stress as a reason to quit and file a wrongful termination claim that will never be proven in court. Contact an expert California Employment Attorney if you have any concerns.

How To Find The Best California Employment Lawyer for Wrongful Termination in California.

1000Attorneys.com is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a pre-screened California Employment Attorney. You may contact us through our 24/7 live chat (or complete our case details submission form) for a free initial consultation.


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