Ohio is an “at-will” employment state, meaning both employers and employees can terminate an employment arrangement at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all.
Federal and state statutes, however, protect employees from what has come to be called “wrongful termination.” Wrongful termination occurs when an employer discharges an employee for reasons of discrimination or retaliation.
If an employee files a wrongful termination lawsuit, the most likely result is a settlement to avoid the costs of going to court. The odds would seem to favor the employee, but the employee must first file a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), based on the grounds for the dismissal, or with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC).
If you believe you’ve been wrongfully terminated in or around Dayton, Ohio, or anywhere in the counties of Montgomery, Miami, Greene, Darke, or Warren, contact our team of wrongful termination attorneys at Dewel Law. We will listen to your story, investigate, and guide you through the proper steps to resolve the situation.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, your termination may be illegal if it was based on discrimination against a protected class to which you may belong. Protected classes are based on sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), race, national origin, religion, and more. Subsequent federal laws extended protections to include discrimination by age (40 and above), pregnancy status, physical or mental disability, veteran status, and genetic information.
The Civil Rights Act is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Ohio actually enacted its own civil rights statute in 1959, but its powers at the time were not quite as sweeping as the federal statute. It has since grown to include all the safeguards contained in federal legislation. The Ohio Civil Rights Act is enforced by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC).
If you are dismissed because of retaliation for something you did at work or related to your job, you are also equally protected by law. Each year, retaliation is the largest single category of complaints received by the EEOC. In Fiscal Year 2020, retaliation complaints comprised 55.8% of all complaints filed.
Your employer may retaliate against you for a variety of reasons. Say you took advantage of time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or were called up as a reservist or member of the National Guard, and the employer then finds something in your performance to get rid of you. Or you report a safety violation to a government watchdog agency, and again your performance review suddenly goes south and you’re gone. Whistleblowers often face retaliation, but it is illegal.
Not all forms of retaliation include termination, but if retaliation is a factor, it can be the basis for a wrongful termination claim.
Another factor can be what is called an “implied contract.” If an employer or supervisor made comments to you that “your job is safe” or “you’ll be here a long time,” or something to that effect, that can be construed as an implied contract, which can be the basis for a wrongful termination lawsuit. The wording in employee handbooks can also sometimes imply a contract between employer and employee.
You don’t even have to be fired to file a wrongful termination action. If your employer deliberately makes it so hard on you at work that you end up having no choice but to resign, you can file a constructive discharge lawsuit — alleging that your employer basically forced you out.
Even if an employer fires you for all the wrong (illegal) reasons and then takes you back, you can still file a wrongful termination claim, though it certainly might make life at work even more difficult if you do.
You must first report any discriminatory or retaliatory act to either the EEOC or the OCRC. Both will investigate. The EEOC will often try to negotiate a settlement, but in the end, if wrongdoing has been found, it will likely issue you a notice of right to sue. You can also proactively request that notice at any time during the investigation. The OCRC will also try to mediate and resolve the situation, but it will not issue a right to sue letter.
Whichever route you take, through the EEOC or OCRC, be sure to have an attorney advise and guide you so that you can stay on the path to the optimal result.
As noted above, most wrongful termination lawsuits result in settlements rather than court proceedings, but that doesn’t mean that your employer isn’t going to throw everything at you to prove you deserved the termination. There will be meetings in which the employer’s attorneys will grill you. You’d better be represented by experienced counsel, or they could easily trip you up.
That being said, your settlement might encompass back and future pay, or even compensation for pain and suffering. In some instances, you may even be restored to your previous position or a similar one — or even offered a promotion.
If the case goes to court, there could also be punitive damages awarded and perhaps an injunction issued against the employer. Either the EEOC or OCRC might also mandate that the employer change their policies and institute training programs for their managers, or even issue sanctions against certain company practices.
At Duwel Law, we represent parties involved in wrongful discharge lawsuits in state, federal, and intermediate appellate courts, as well as the Ohio Supreme Court. We help clients throughout Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Contact us if you believe you’ve received a wrongful termination. We will listen to your story and present all of your options to protect your rights.