It’s illegal in California for employers to retaliate against whistleblowers. If an employee files complaints regarding everything from discrimination to safety violations, or if they simply cooperate with investigators who may be looking into such matters, their employer can’t respond by terminating their employment or taking other such actions.
This doesn’t mean employers always obey the law. When employers retaliate against workers, they may often fabricate reasons for doing so.
For example, perhaps you’ve filed multiple complaints because you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. Instead of addressing your complaints properly, your employer fires you.
They likely wouldn’t overtly state that they let you go because you’d filed complaints. Instead, it’s more likely they’d claim you were being fired because the quality of your on-the-job performance had decreased in recent months.
That’s just one example. The main point to understand is that proving an employer has retaliated against you can be challenging when they will probably claim they had legal justification to take certain actions against you. This is one of many reasons it’s wise to enlist the help of an employment law attorney if you ever plan on filing a claim or lawsuit against a current or former employer. Having representation from an expert who thoroughly understands the nuances of California’s employment laws can improve your chances of building a strong case.
Luckily, a recent decision made by the California Supreme Court might have somewhat reduced the burden on plaintiffs taking legal action due to retaliation in the workplace.
In the recent case of Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc., the plaintiff had been fired from his job due to alleged poor performance. However, prior to being fired, the plaintiff had brought a whistleblower claim against his employer due to unethical business practices.
The case eventually made its way to the California Supreme Court. When deciding how to rule, the court needed to consider which standard it would apply. One common standard applied in such cases requires that the plaintiff establishes a prima facie retaliation case. Once they’ve done so, the employer must then show they had a legitimate reason to fire the employee. It is then up to the plaintiff to show that the reason their employer has given for firing them is pretextual, meaning it’s an excuse being used to conceal the employer’s actual reason for terminating the plaintiff’s employment.
However, the California Supreme Court ultimately decided to apply a different standard in this case. The standard the court applied only requires a plaintiff to show that the protected action they engaged in (in this case, filing a whistleblower claim) contributed to an employer’s decision to fire them. It is then up to the employer to show they would have terminated the plaintiff’s employment even if they had not engaged in said protected activity.
This may establish a precedent that will apply in future California workplace retaliation cases. That said, although such a precedent could render it somewhat easier for plaintiffs to show they were fired illegally, it’s still important to hire a lawyer when filing a claim or lawsuit against an employer. At JML Law, our California employment law attorneys are prepared to offer the representation you deserve if you have a valid case. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at 818-610-8800.