The website Wrongful Termination Settlements estimates that the average payout for an illegally discharged worker is about $40,000, but since most settlements are kept private, that figure is merely a rough approximation.
Wrongful termination settlements in the hundreds of thousands and even millions make the headlines, but they often involve punitive damages, or a share of money recovered by the government in whistleblower cases where an employee reports an employer for defrauding the government.
Once such cased involved Area Temps of Cleveland, Ohio, a large temporary staffing agency that violated federal anti-discrimination laws by profiling applicants based on race and other demographic factors. Two employees reported the practice to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A settlement netted the whistleblowers $650,000.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of wrongful termination due to discrimination, retaliation, or any other reason, contact the Law Offices of F. Benjamin Riek III today. Attorney F. Benjamin Riek III proudly serves clients in and around Akron, Ohio, including the nearby areas of Hudson, Canton, Cleveland, and Lorain, Ohio.
Ohio is considered an at-will employment state, meaning employers are free to fire employees for any reason or no reason at all — provided they don’t act out of discriminatory or retaliatory purposes. Employees’ rights are protected under both federal and state statutes.
The U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 established “protected classes” of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. These classes were later expanded to include gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, age, disability, veteran status, genetic history, and more. Laws prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment practices based on any of these classes. Abuses can be reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The Ohio Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1959 to regulate places of public accommodation, but has been expanded over the years to embrace all businesses. The Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) fields complaints of employer discrimination.
Terminating an employee because of discrimination based on the above factors can constitute wrongful termination. Another factor that can render a termination wrongful is basing it on retaliation.
For example, suppose an employee reports a workplace violation to a state or federal agency, and the employer decides to eliminate the source by firing the employee. This is considered retaliation and is protected by various statutes. The EEOC, in fact, reports that the most frequent complaint it receives is for retaliation.
If an employee is subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), then the provisions of that binding document will dictate when and how an employee can be terminated. But other circumstances can sometimes close the at-will termination window.
For example, suppose an employer or supervisor tells an employee, “you’ll be here for a long time.” This can represent an implied promise, which would bind the employee to the company unless it could prove misconduct or another dischargeable factor.
The same is true if something in the employee handbook or other company document hints that employment is long-term. Again, this can form a written or implied promise, or contract. Employers need to be extra careful when making promises to employees about employment.
Termination is not the only overt act of retaliation. Other forms can be passing over the employee for promotion, demoting the employee, increasing job site scrutiny, making life difficult at work, suddenly issuing poor performance reviews, or changing the employee’s work schedule.
An employer might retaliate for a number of different reasons based on actions by the employee. Some common instances that often lead to retaliation against an employee include:
Reporting a safety violation to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Reporting sexual harassment observed in the workplace
Refusing to perform an act that violates public policy, such as filing erroneous reports with the government
Discussing with fellow employees the need to organize as a collective bargaining unit
Filing a complaint with the EEOC
Participating in an EEOC or OSHA investigation
Reporting the misuse of federal funds or the defrauding of the federal government (see Qui Tam Lawsuits below)
If you’ve been terminated because of discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, you must first report the incident to a responsible federal or state agency — the EEOC or OCRC — which will attempt to mediate. If mediation fails, the federal or state agency will then investigate and possibly levy fines and sanctions.
The agency will issue you a right-to-sue letter if it finds the employer at fault, but even while the investigation is ongoing, you can request permission to sue — which will often be granted.
If you win a wrongful termination lawsuit, you can recover lost and even future wages and benefits, and perhaps even punitive damages. You also may be subject to reinstatement or even a promotion. The employer can face an injunction against any further such discriminatory or retaliatory action.
Qui Tam lawsuits are a type of whistleblower lawsuit that is brought under the False Claims Act. This law rewards whistleblowers in successful cases where the government recovers funds that have been lost due to fraud. The whistleblower, known as a relator, helps the government prosecute the defrauder and receives a reward, or portion of the money recovered, for doing so.
Tax fraud, securities and commodities violations, illegal marketing practices, kickbacks, Medicare fraud — these are just some of the practices that can lead to Qui Tam lawsuits. The largest reward so far is the $250 million recovered by four whistleblowers in the GlaxoSmithKline case of 2012. Rewards typically range anywhere from 15 to 30% of the money recovered.
If you believe you have been discharged from work due to discrimination or retaliation based on any of the protected classes and activities of federal and state law, contact the Law Offices of F. Benjamin Riek III today. The window for reporting violations to the EEOC or OCRC can be as short as 180 days. If you live in the Akron area, including the nearby communities of Cleveland, Canton, Lorain, and Hudson, reach out today to recover what’s due you for your wrongful termination.