Unfair Termination: Equitable vs. Legal Remedies

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 What Is Unfair Termination?

Unfair termination is the termination of an employee for reasons that are unfair, also known as wrongful termination. When an employee is terminated for documenting a wrongful activity or for filing a worker’s compensation claim, it may be considered unfair termination.

Although the termination may not be considered technically illegal, it is a breach of public policy. This means that it is bad for society as a whole.

Under those circumstances, a court has the capability to hold employers accountable.

What Are Examples of Unfair Termination?

There are numerous examples when it is unjust and illegal for an employee to be terminated from their job, including:

  • Discrimination: When an employee is removed because of their:
    • race;
    • color;
    • national origin;
    • gender;
    • faith;
    • age;
    • disability; or
    • pregnancy;
  • Retaliation: This occurs when an employee is terminated as a result of filing a complaint against their employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission;
  • Breach of good faith and fair dealing: This arises when employer behaved unfairly toward an employee and fabricated a rationale to fire them;
  • Violation of public policy: When employers terminate an employee because they are part of a recognized group or political party;
  • Whistle blowing activities: An employer firing an employee that complains that their employer violated any law, regulation, or rule at all; and
  • Family or medical leave: An employer terminates an employee who took time off for explanations that are listed in the Family and Medical Leave Act.

What Are Damages?

A wrongful termination case is a type of civil lawsuit. If an individual files a civil wrongful termination case, the plaintiff is requesting that the court order their former employer, the defendant, to pay them money in order to reimburse them for the losses resulting from the termination.

The compensation is referred to as monetary damages. However, an individual cannot just file a claim and request a million dollars.

Instead, the plaintiff has to establish the amounts of the different types of losses they suffered in order to be compensated.

What Is Lost Pay?

Lost pay includes the payments that an individual lost as a result of their termination. This element of damages includes the pay the individual would have obtained if their employer had not terminated them.

Lost wages claims may also include:

  • Any earned and unpaid paychecks;
  • Overtime; and
  • Other compensation the employer has withheld.

It is important to note, however, that the amount may be reduced by any cash the individual made after they were terminated. If an individual gets re-hired at the same rate of pay or a higher rate of pay after their termination, they would not have any more lost income as of the date of their re-hiring.

If an individual is re-hired at a lower pay rate, they will continue to have lost pay damages that are equal to the difference between what they made at their old job and what they are making at their new job. For example, if an individual was out of their job for one month, they count that entire month of lost pay at their former pay rate.

If the individual gets a new job but is paid $2,000 per month less than their former job, their lost pay damages will continue to add up at the rate of $2,000 per month. A lost bonus may also be a component of this category of damages.

What Are Equitable Remedies for Unfair Termination?

If an individual brings a claim against their employer for being unfairly terminated and their lawsuit is successful, they may be awarded certain equitable remedies. Equitable remedies may include:

  • Being reinstated to their job, if they want it;
  • An injunction against the employer; or
  • Making the employee whole, which can mean:
    • repositioning;
    • promoting;
    • increasing the wage; or
    • emptying the employee’s personnel file of wrongs.

Although the employee may return to their position, they may also obtain a promotion, a transfer, a wage increase, or other remedies. The ultimate goal would be to return the worker to their assigned position as though they were never terminated.

If the worker was on track for a raise or promotion that they lost due to the unjust termination, they would be able to return to their position with that change applied.

What Are Legal Remedies for Unfair Termination?

The legal remedies an individual may receive for unfair termination most commonly include monetary compensation, such as:

Back pay includes any earnings or benefits that the worker missed because of the unjust termination. On the other hand, front pay includes any earnings or benefits the worker would miss because of the time between the decision to reinstate the employee and when they actually return to their job.

If an employee cannot be reinstated or if their position was filled or downsized, they may be provided front pay instead of returning to their position. Although punitive damages may be awarded in some cases, they are not typical.

Punitive damages are intended to penalize an employer instead of awarding an employee. A court will only grant punitive damages if an employer’s behavior was atrocious enough the court believes they should face additional discipline.

In certain states, punitive damages are only granted for specific claims, including product liability or wrongful death. If an individual believes they should be awarded punitive damages, they should consult with an attorney to determine their eligibility.

What Are Legal and Equitable Wrongful Termination Claims?

There is a distinction in the law between legal and equitable claims, although, in some cases, they may occasionally overlap. If an individual’s lawsuit involves an employment-related issue, such as discrimination or wrongful termination, an individual is most likely to have a combination of these two types.

The objectives of legal and equitable lawsuits are different. A legal claim requests that a court judge the plaintiff’s losses and reimburse them for their losses.

A plaintiff may request hard damages, such as lost wages, or soft damages, such as pain and suffering or humiliation and stress. An equitable claim, on the other hand, requests that the court deliver relief through an injunction.

An injunction is a court order that instructs a defendant either to do something or to stop doing something they have been doing. An employer who is predisposed to discriminate or act in a retaliatory manner will typically victimize more than one employee over time.

A plaintiff who stands up to their employer and files a wrongful termination lawsuit may want to recover for their own financial losses and to change things for other employees. Injunctions may achieve the second part of that goal.

An individual’s lawsuit, they make a legal claim for lost wages, damage to their career, other financial losses, and emotional pain. An individual may also make an equitable claim and request that the court order an injunction.

An individual’s equitable claim may not help them directly, but it can help others. An equitable claim often has a robust social impact because it sends a message to other employers regarding what is and is not fair in the workplace.

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

If you believe you have been unfairly terminated, it is important to consult with a wrongful termination lawyer as soon as you can. Many civil rights laws and employees’ rights have filing deadlines.

Your attorney can guide you through the procedures so you can obtain the relief you seek. If you are an employer who is facing a wrongful termination lawsuit, it is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure your rights are protected.


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