Unfair Termination: Equity vs. Law

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What Is Unfair Termination?

Unfair termination is the firing of an employee for unjust reasons. When an employee is fired for reporting wrongful activities, fired for serving on a jury, or fired for filing a worker’s compensation claim, these can constitute unfair termination.  Although the firing may not strictly be “illegal,” it is a violation of public policy, which means that it is bad for society as a whole.  Courts have the power to hold the employer liable. 

Courts consider all facts and circumstances in cases of unfair termination.  Constructive dismissal (being demoted to a menial task), termination with extreme prejudice (assassination), termination without good cause, and forced resignation can all constitute unfair termination depending on the circumstances.

What Are Equitable Remedies?

Modern courts have the power to grant “equitable remedies” even where a legal right has not been violated.  Principles of equity give a judge the right to use discretion so that justice will be served.

For example, a typical kind of unfair termination is when an employee is fired in violation of a contract or legal agreement.  The breach of contract is a question of law.  However, there are also equitable factors to be considered: whether the employer received a benefit that it never recompensed the employee for, whether the employee incurred costs by relying on the employer’s promises, and whether the employee can be fairly compensated only by making the employer do something (as opposed to simply paying money). 

As another example, unfair termination is when employees are fired because of their race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. This is a violation of a legal right, as established in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  However, even before 1964 this would have been unfair termination, because a person cannot change these factors. 

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Have Been Unfairly Terminated?

If you feel that you have been fired for an illegal reason, such as discrimination, an experience employment lawyer will be needed. Many worker's rights and civil rights laws have detailed procedures and filing deadlines. An attorney can shepherd you through these procedures in order to get you the relief you seek. If you are an employer facing a wrongful termination lawsuit, you should speak to a lawyer immediately.

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Last Modified: 09-14-2012 12:26 PM PDT

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