If you believe your employer terminated you for an illegal reason, you might have grounds to file a wrongful termination claim. Since these types of lawsuits are complex, working with an experienced wrongful termination lawyer at Swartz Swidler might be critical in ensuring you receive the most favorable outcome.
Most employees work at will, meaning they can be fired by their employers at any time and for almost any reason. However, employers can’t fire someone for an illegal reason. When an employer makes a termination decision based on an unlawful reason, the terminated employee might pursue a wrongful termination claim.
When Is Termination Unlawful?
There are several circumstances under which an employee’s termination might be illegal and form the grounds of a wrongful termination claim. These circumstances are discussed below.
1. Termination in Breach of Contract
While it is not as common as at-will employment, some employees work under employment contracts. When these contracts include provisions for the types of conduct that will result in termination, firing an employee for different reasons might violate the contract and be the basis for a wrongful termination claim.
This type of claim might also be filed when an employee handbook explicitly lists why a worker can be fired or specific disciplinary procedures that must be followed before someone can be terminated. A lawyer for wrongful termination can review your employee handbook or contract to determine whether your termination constituted a breach of contract.
2. Termination Based on Illegal Discrimination
Workplace discrimination based on the protected characteristics of employees is illegal in New Jersey under both state and federal law. An employer can’t fire someone based on the following characteristics:
- Genetic information
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- National origin
Employers frequently try to argue that they fired employees for a different, non-discriminatory reason. When you retain a wrongful termination lawyer to handle your case, your attorney can examine the facts and evaluate whether your employer’s reason for termination was discriminatory and the likelihood your claim might succeed.
3. Retaliatory Discharge
Employers can’t retaliate against workers for any of the following reasons:
- The employee filing a complaint
- The employee blowing the whistle about the employer’s illegal conduct
- The employee filing a worker’s compensation claim for a workplace injury
- The employee taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- The employee serving on a jury
- The employee serving in the U.S. Armed Forces
Do I Need a Lawyer for Wrongful Termination?
While you aren’t required to hire an attorney to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, your chances of success will be much higher when you are represented by a competent and experienced lawyer for wrongful termination.
After your termination, there are a couple of different paths you could take based on the underlying reason that you were fired. If you were terminated for a discriminatory reason, you will need to exhaust the administrative process with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights before you can file a wrongful termination lawsuit. A lawyer can help ensure that you meet the required deadlines and guide you through the entire process. An attorney can also help you evaluate what happened and determine the best course of action to take.
If you plan to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination, you will have the burden of proving your case. This requires you to present evidence to support your claim. An attorney can help you understand the types of evidence that might be needed. Some examples of evidence that could be important include the following:
- Text messages, emails, and written correspondence from your employer
- Your employment contract if applicable
- Your employee handbook
- Annual performance reviews
Legal Remedies for Wrongful Termination
If your termination was wrongful, the available damages will depend on the type of wrongful termination claim you filed. If you were fired for a discriminatory reason, you might be entitled to recover damages for emotional distress, back pay, front pay, reinstatement, attorney fees, and punitive damages. Other types of claims might not include damages for emotional distress or punitive damages.
What to Ask an Attorney
If you are searching for a wrongful termination attorney, you should be prepared to ask questions of any lawyer you consider. Many employment lawyers offer free consultations to allow you to meet with several and find the one with whom you are the most comfortable. Schedule consultations with a few lawyers and ask the following questions:
- What is your experience handling wrongful termination claims?
- How long have you been licensed?
- Do you represent employers or employees?
- Does your firm focus on employment law or have a general practice?
- How do the state’s wrongful termination laws apply to the facts of my case?
- What is the deadline for filing a claim?
- Do I need to go through an administrative process before I can file a lawsuit?
- What types of damages might be available?
The attorney’s answers to these questions should give you a good idea of their experience and knowledge and how they might handle your case.
Consult a Wrongful Termination Lawyer
If you think your termination might have been unlawful, you should schedule a free consultation with the attorneys at Swartz Swidler. We have years of experience handling all types of employment disputes and can help you understand your next steps. Call us today at (856) 685-7420.