Alan Lescht Logo

Hello, you are using an old browser that's unsafe and no longer supported. Please consider updating your browser to a newer version, or downloading a modern browser.

In the BLOG

A guide to wrongful termination

More likely than not, you’re employed at-will.  At-will employment means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all.  It also means that you can resign at any time and for any reason.  The exception to at-will employment is wrongful-termination.  Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason.  For example, a company can fire an employee for being late, but it cannot fire an employee simply because she is pregnant.

What are examples of wrongful termination?

There are several common types of wrongful termination.  One type is a discriminatory firing.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits covered employers from firing an employee because of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  Other federal laws prohibit discrimination based on traits such as age, disability, and pregnancy.  States and localities may have their own laws that provide additional protections.  For example, the District of Columbia Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on the characteristics covered under federal law, as well as sexual orientation, gender identity, family responsibilities, and political affiliation.

Another common form of wrongful termination is a retaliatory firing.  For example, it is illegal for covered employers to fire an employee for complaining about race discrimination.  It may also be illegal to retaliate against employees for engaging in other types of activity that is “protected” under the law, such as taking medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Certain employees, including federal workers, are also protected from retaliation for reporting their employer’s waste, fraud, and abuse.  This is called whistleblower retaliation.

What is wrongful termination in violation of public policy?

For both above examples, there are laws that give employees a right to file a claim for wrongful termination.  However, an employee may have a wrongful termination claim even if there isn’t a law that provides a right to sue.  An example is wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  For this type of claim, the employee must prove that his/her firing violated a specific public policy.

The law regarding public policy claims varies greatly from state to state.  However, firing an employee for refusing to engage in criminal activity is a common example.  For example, let’s say that a supervisor pressures an employee to steal from a client during an on-site meeting.  The employee refuses, and the supervisor fires him.  Although there may not be a law that specifically says that it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee who refuses to steal, the employee may be able to sue for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.  Another example is firing an employee for filing a claim for worker’s compensation benefits.  There are laws that give employees the right to file a worker’s compensation claim.  Firing an employee for filing a claim may be in violation of public policy.

Do I have a case for wrongful termination?

Whether you have a claim depends on many factors.  What happened?  Who did you work for?  Where did you work?  Law regarding wrongful termination varies from state to state.  For example, DC courts may recognize wrongful termination claims based on gender identity discrimination, but Virginia courts don’t.

And the strength of your claim depends, in great part, on the strength of your evidence.  An employer probably won’t admit to firing someone for an illegal reason.  Instead, the employer will fabricate a reason.  In most cases, to prove wrongful termination, an employee must prove that the employer’s stated reason is false and that the real reason is an illegal one.  For example, positive performance reviews may disprove the employer’s claim that you were fired for bad performance.  Security records showing that you swiped your employee ID to enter the work building may dispute your supervisor’s claim that you were fired for being absent without leave (AWOL).  Evidence that your employer treated you differently than your coworkers, or that you filed a discrimination complaint right before your firing, may also help you prove your case.

The bottom line is, there’s no fool-proof test for wrongful termination.  You should consult with an employment law attorney who can make an assessment based on the applicable law and the specific facts and evidence in your case.

What do I do if I was wrongfully terminated?

It’s important to act quickly.  Government and private-sector employees alike have strict deadlines for filing wrongful termination claims in court or with the appropriate administrative agency.  When and how to file a claim may depend on location, the type of employer, and the reason for the termination.  For example, federal employees who were removed because of discrimination may need to file an appeal with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) within 30 days.  On the other hand, a private-sector employee may need to file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the firing.

Schedule a consultation with an employment law attorney right away.  An experienced lawyer will explain when and where you should file your claim.  Your attorney will assess your evidence, develop a litigation strategy, and advise you about the possible outcomes and risks.  If your claim is successful, you may be able to recover damages, including reinstatement to your job, back pay, and reimbursement for attorney’s fees.  The right legal team can make all the difference in your case.

How can Alan Lescht and Associates help me?

Alan Lescht and Associates handles wrongful termination cases for federal government employees, and for clients who work for state and local government agencies or private-sector employers in DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.  We can determine if you have a claim for wrongful termination and whether you can recover damages.  We will explain when, where, and how to file your case.  Whether you want to seek an out-of-court settlement or file a lawsuit, our attorneys can help you discuss your options and develop a legal strategy.

Back To All


Discrimination Federal Discipline Federal Employees Federal MSPB FMLA Law Retaliation Whistleblower Retaliation Wrongful Termination


Alan Lescht is committed to protecting and respecting your privacy, and we'll only use your personal information to provide services you requested from us. From time to time, we would like to contact you about our services, as well as other content that may be of interest to you. If you consent to us contacting you for this purpose, please tick below to indicate you agree to let us contact you.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.