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How Long do I Have to File a Wrongful Termination of Employment Claim in California?

California, like many other states, has an at-will employment provision that is found at Cal. Lab. Code § 2922. Under this code, employers and employees are both allowed to terminate employment at any time. However, there are some exceptions that have been carved out to this general rule, including by express contractual agreement, statutorily granted exceptions, and public policy.

If your employment is terminated and the reason falls within one of these exceptions, your firing may have been unlawful. This may provide you with legal rights to file a wrongful termination claim against your employer. Your right to seek a legal remedy is time-limited, however. There are several different statutes of limitation that apply to wrongful termination cases.

Wrongful Termination in Violation of an Implied or Written Contract

Some people in California work under written contracts. Many of these written contracts contain provisions that provide for how terminations will be handled. There might be information about warnings, reprimands, and other steps that must be taken before the contracted worker can be fired.

When someone is fired in a manner that violates a provision that is contained in a written employment contract, he or she can file a breach of contract lawsuit based on his or her contract under Cal. Civ. Proc. § 337. In that case, the worker will have up to four years to file a lawsuit for a breach of the written employment contract. That limitations period will begin to run beginning on the date of the termination.

In addition to written contracts, some workers may have implied or oral contracts. The rules are different for contracts that are implied or oral. An implied contract might be found from such things as policy and procedure manuals that include procedures that lead up to termination other than firings for cause. Lawsuits for wrongful termination in breach of implied contracts must be filed within two years of the date of termination, and the plaintiffs will need to be able to present evidence that supports the existence of the implied-in-fact contract of employment.

Wrongful Termination in Violation of Statutorily Created Exceptions

There are a number of federal and state laws that create some exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on certain protected characteristics, including the following:

  • Color
  • Race
  • National origin
  • Sex, including pregnancy
  • Religion

Other federal laws that also prohibit discrimination include the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Genetic Information Act, and others.

In California, the California Employment and Fair Housing Act also protects workers against discrimination based on certain protected characteristics, including the following:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Veteran status
  • Disability
  • Age if over 40

Protections against discrimination based on protected characteristics exists in all aspects of employment, including firing decisions. There are some important deadlines that you should understand if you have been wrongfully terminated based on your protected status under federal or state laws.

To assert a wrongful termination claim based on discrimination or harassment under federal law, you must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the date of your termination. However, if there is a state agency with which you could file the charge under federal law, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, you have up to 300 days from the date of termination to file your charge of wrongful termination based on discrimination under federal law with the DFEH. If you choose to file your charge under state law with the DFEH, you have one year after the date of your termination to file your charge.

Once you file a charge with the EEOC or the DFEH, the agency will investigate it. In some cases, the agency will decide to take the case itself and work to reach a resolution. In others, however, the agency will decline to take the case and send you a notice of your right to sue. This notice gives you the right to file a lawsuit against your former employer in state or federal court within a set time period. You must file your lawsuit against your former employer no later than one year from the date when the notice was sent to you.

Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy

In addition to the prohibitions against terminating an employee in violation of a contract or in violation of a statute, there are certain types of terminations that are considered to be in violation of public policy. These include the following:

  • Terminating an employee because he or she refused to break the law
  • Firing an employee because he or she performed a legal duty
  • Terminating an employee because he or she exercised his or her legal rights
  • Firing an employee for reporting violations of certain laws

If you are terminated for one of the above-listed reasons, you are able to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer because your termination was in violation of public policy.

For most cases involving wrongful terminations in violation of public policy, you will have up to two years from the date of your termination to file a lawsuit. However, if your case involves certain types of terminations such as being fired for filing a harassment or discrimination complaint with the DFEH, you will only have one year to file a lawsuit.

Get Legal Help From the Experienced Attorneys at the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat

If you believe that your termination was wrongful, it is important for you to act quickly. Some of the statutes of limitations are very short, and if you fail to meet them, you will be barred from filing a lawsuit in the future. An employment lawyer at the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat can evaluate your potential claim and help you to understand the different laws and limitations periods that apply to it. If the attorney agrees to accept representation of your case, he or she can help you to collect the evidence that you need and to file your discrimination charge or complaint with the correct agency or court within the statutory deadlines. To learn more about your potential rights, contact the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat to schedule a consultation.

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