Wrongful Termination Claims
Because New York is an “at-will” state, an employer can technically terminate an employee at any time and without reason. However, employees cannot be fired for reasons that violate their rights, such as gender, race, or marital status. Additionally, employees cannot be terminated for refusing to do something illegal or reporting an employer’s illegal activities to the authorities. New York State Labor Law dictates that workers cannot be fired for recreational or political activities outside of work, union membership, or making a complaint about a labor law provision.
Because an employee who believes they have been wrongfully terminated may bring a case immediately, employers should retain legal counsel at once to prevent loss of important evidence. If an employee files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), hiring an attorney becomes especially important.
Local, state, and federal laws prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee who reports them for discrimination, harassment, failure to pay overtime, and other labor laws. If an employee takes leave to care for themselves, a newborn child, or a close family member under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), they may not be terminated for being absent. Some employment agreements preclude termination without cause and require the employer to provide notice or severance payment in the event of termination.
If an employee proves their wrongful termination claim, the employer may be liable for the following damages:
● Lost earnings and benefits, plus interest
● Compensation for emotional distress
● Punitive damages for unlawful conduct
● All costs and legal fees
In some cases, a wrongfully terminated employee can demand to be reinstated.
If an employee files a wrongful termination claim on the basis that they refused to submit to sexual harassment, undertake fraudulent activities, or indulge in any criminal behavior or business practices, the employer could face future criminal charges.
On the national level, an employer may not fire an employee because of their race, religion, color, disability, or any other protected status. New York state law covers these federal categories and also protects employees from being terminated because of their sexual orientation, marital status, or their position as a victim of domestic violence
If an employer does not terminate a worker for reasons associated with a protected class status or any of the actions or conditions protected by state or city guidelines, they have a valid defense.
On April 6, 2005 Laura Zubulake, who had been employed at UBS as an institutional equities saleswoman, was awarded over $29 million by a jury. She sued UBS for sex-based discrimination and for firing her after she complained. By awarding almost $7 million in front pay, the jury acknowledged that UBS’s action had hindered the plaintiff’s future employment prospects, and the additional award of over $20 million was for punitive damages.