Cleveland Wrongful Termination Attorneys
If you have been fired for what seems to be no good reason, it can be devastating. Not only have you lost your job, you are also left wondering if your rights have been violated.
Your employer should have a legally defensible reason for terminating your employment relationship. When it can’t give you one, it’s time to consult legal representation to determine whether you have a wrongful termination claim.
What is At-Will Employment?
At the outset, it is important to note that Ohio is what’s called an “at-will” employment state. At-will employment means that unless an employee has a contract of employment, the employer can fire the employee at any time and for any reason, as long as that reason is not otherwise prohibited by law. However, there are a variety of circumstances in which the law does in fact prohibit an employer from firing the employee. The phrase “wrongful termination” might commonly be used to describe any one of them.
First, wrongful termination can refer to termination made on the basis of age, disability, gender, race, religion, color, national origin, pregnancy, military status, or genetic information. Various federal statutes protect employees from being fired for these reasons. Those statutes include the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112 contains many of these same protections from discrimination for employees. Because the Ohio law applies to smaller employers than some of the comparable federal statutes, in some instances, an employee may be entitled to protection under Ohio law but not federal law.
Second, wrongful termination can be used to refer termination in retaliation for whistleblower activity. Both Ohio and federal employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from firing employees for engaging in what’s called “protected activity.” Some examples of protected activity include:
- making a good faith complaint of employment discrimination;
- participating in an investigation into employment discrimination;
- providing testimony in an employment discrimination case;
- opposing discriminatory behavior in the workplace in general;
- requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability or religious practice;
- requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Various other federal statutes protect employees from retaliation for blowing the whistle on other sorts of illegal behavior. Two fairly common examples include protection for employees who report corporate or shareholder fraud, as well as those who report workplace safety violations.
There is also a claim under Ohio common law for “wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.” This type of claim was first recognized by the Ohio Supreme Court in a 1990 case called Greeley v. Miami Valley Maintenance Contractors, Inc. It applies in situations where an employee is fired for reasons that would jeopardize an important public policy. To prevail on this type of wrongful discharge claim, an employee must prove four things:
- That there is a relevant and clear public policy found in the Ohio or United States Constitutions, a statute, administrative regulation, or in the common law. This is commonly known as the “clarity” element.
- Firing employees under the circumstances involved in the employee’s termination would jeopardize the public policy at issue. This is called the “jeopardy” element.
- The employer’s decision to fire the employee was motivated by conduct related to the public policy at issue—also known as the “causation” element.
- Finally, the employer did not have an overriding legitimate business to fire the employee, which is unsurprisingly known as the “overriding justification” element.
Although a wrongful discharge public policy claim may seem at first glance to be fairly straightforward, they are not. A number of court decisions over the years have placed legal limitations on an employee’s ability to bring such a claim. As a result, it can only be legally asserted in court under a very limited set of circumstances. In most situations, employees fired for illegal reasons will instead have to turn to one of the employment discrimination or whistleblower retaliation laws for protection.
At Bolek Besser Glesius LLC, our Cleveland wrongful termination attorneys have successfully handled many of these various types of claims. We are committed to protecting employee rights, and we will work with you to identify why you were fired and whether you have a claim.
We understand that your situation and needs are unique, and we will help you make the decisions that are best for you. Whether you want to obtain a favorable settlement or have your day in court, we will advise you and protect your rights throughout the legal process, from identifying potential claims, to negotiation, and if necessary, to trial and appeal.
Our firm is committed to protecting the rights of employees in Cleveland, Lake, Lorain, Summit, and Medina Counties, and throughout Northeast Ohio. We will do all that we can to make sure that your voice is heard, and that you receive justice for your wrongful termination.
Contact us or request a free consultation today to learn how we may be able to help you.