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Is a wrongful termination case possible in an at-will state?

You may be quite familiar with the concept of at-will employment, in which either an employer or employee may terminate employment at any time, for any reason and without prior notice. You may also be aware that California is an at-will state, but one with strong protections for public and private employees under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. So how does the law apply to wrongful termination cases, when at-will employment seems to allow employers to fire for discriminatory reasons?

The answer lies in the protections against discrimination provided by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and enforced by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Under California law, employers may not discriminate against employees or applicants based on race, ethnicity, religion, creed, disability, mental health, gender, sexuality or any other protected classification. This means that if you believe an employer terminated you for discriminatory reasons, you may have a case for wrongful termination.

This also applies to victims of sexual harassment regardless of their gender, sexuality or other protected status. Victims of harassment and assault can consider their termination wrongful if it was in direct response to report of workplace harassment or assault. Other instances can include employees fired for reporting a legal or ethical violation. So while California is an at-will state, that does not extend to allowing employers to practice discrimination in their hiring and firing choices.

This article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be used as admissible legal counsel.

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