Can my employer fire me for no reason? (Part I)

AM I BEING DISCRIMINATED IN MY JOB? CAN MY EMPLOYER FIRE ME FOR NO REASON? (Part I)

In this article, I will focus on discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, citizenship, age, and disability. You should know that there are other aspects of workplace discrimination or harassment which I will not be covering in this article (i.e., economic activity, pregnancy, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, free speech, etc.). You should also know that I will be referring to discrimination “at the workplace.”  Please note, however, that many of these provisions also apply to persons applying for jobs. As you are aware, potential employers might discriminate against potential employees. Therefore, anytime I refer to discrimination “at the workplace” by employers, I am also referring to discrimination by potential employers. This article will be entirely based on federal law. You must know, however, that New York State law parallels federal law. In point of fact, New York State law often goes beyond the protections of the federal law. Therefore, if you have any questions about your employment, you should contact me to discuss your case.

 Employment at Will

Yes, you can be fired for no reason. In the United States and, of course, in New York State, employers are free to hire or reject any applicant without giving an explanation or cause.  However, under certain contracts and/or union collective bargaining agreements, an employee may not be fired unless the employer has “good cause.” In addition, a working relationship often implies a good faith and fair dealing theory. That is, in some contracts, the law imposes upon each party a duty of good faith and fair dealing in the performance and enforcement of their relationship. Therefore, the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing prohibits the exercise of a power of termination except for reasons which are honest and consistent with accepted norms of reasonableness. Some courts have held that employment contracts contain an implicit or implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. However, some courts hold that any remedy for abusive discharge must come from the legislative branch and not from the judicial branch. In addition, an employer cannot fire you violating some anti-discrimination laws.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the legislation that outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment. Title VII is one part of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and/or national origin.  Please note that Title VII was extensively amended in 1972. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and state fair employment agencies like the New York State Division of Human Rights are authorized to investigate, mediate, and file lawsuits on behalf of employees. Title VII also provides that an individual can bring a private lawsuit. However, certain prerequisites must be met.

Title VII provides for several remedies. For example, a successful lawsuit or complaint may result in reinstatement, back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctions, attorneys’ fees, future pay, future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, etc. Prejudgment interest on back pay is also allowed pursuant to Title VII. However, please note that there are caps for compensatory and punitive damages.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

 The Equal Pay Act of 1963, commonly known as “EPA” was enacted as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act which deals with minimum wage, overtime, child labor, etc. The EPA requires equal pay for men and women who perform equal work. However, it allows for differences as long as they are based on seniority, merit, or some other factor other than sex.  Unlike Title VII, it includes statutory liquidated damages, and it can be privately enforced without administrative prerequisites. In 1978, the enforcement of the EPA was transferred to the EEOC. On January 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned the holding of a Supreme Court case, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, regarding the EPA statute of limitations. If you do not bring your action within the time set by the statute of limitations, your right of action expires. This new bill provides that each gender-unequal paycheck is a new violation of the law and therefore resets the statute of limitations.

 The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

 The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, also known as “ADEA” prohibits employment discrimination against persons 40 years of age or older in the United States. ADEA also sets standards for pensions. ADEA prohibits discrimination in hiring, promotions, wages, or firing/layoffs. One of the key provisions of the Act is that it allows for the recovery of liquidated damages. It also provides for reinstatement and back pay. In 1974, the Act was amended to include charges against government employers. In 1978, the ADEA was amended to prohibit mandatory retirement age and extended protective class to age seventy (from sixty-five). In 1986, an amendment eliminated the upper age limit of seventy years. In addition, the 1991 amendments of the ADEA require employers using age-based differences in benefit plans to be justified by cause. However, the amendments allowed age rules for police officers and firefighters.

There are many more federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace.  Please look for my next Article in the December edition to find information about the following anti-discrimination statutes: Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987; Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; The Rehabilitation Act of 1973; The Civil Rights Act of 1991; The Civil Rights Act of 1866 also known as Section 1981; Executive Order 11246; and more. 

Please note that some of these laws apply only to employers with a certain number of employees.  If you have any doubt as to whether any of these laws or others applies to you or your employer, please contact me to discuss your case.

You should know that Title VII excludes bona fide private membership in clubs from its application.

Some of these laws are enforced by the EEOC.  You can contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 or at www.eeoc.gov. Even though you do not need legal representation to make a complaint before the EEOC or to assert a defense against a complaint, it is recommended you consult with an attorney about your case.

You should remember that this article is not intended to provide you with legal advice; it is intended only to provide guidance about the employment law and discrimination in the workplace. Furthermore, the article is not intended to explain or identify all potential issues that may arise in an employment/discrimination case.  Each case is fact-specific and therefore similar employment cases may have different outcomes. 

I represent individuals in discrimination cases. If you have any questions or concerns about discrimination in the workplace, you can call me at (315) 422-5673, send me a fax at (315) 466-5673, or e-mail me at joseperez@joseperezyourlawyer.com. The Law Office of Jose Perez is located at 120 East Washington Street, Suite 925, Syracuse, New York13202. Please look for my next article in the December edition

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