When Can You Sue Over an Adverse Employment Action in California

An adverse employment action refers to a significant negative action or event that affects an employee’s job status, position, salary, or benefits. These actions can range from demotion or pay cuts to termination, and can often create a hostile work environment. The State of California has strict laws protecting the rights of employees, but understanding when you can sue over an adverse employment action is crucial to safeguarding your professional life and an experienced employment lawyer can help you to form the strongest possible case.

Identifying Adverse Employment Actions

Before filing a lawsuit, one must understand what exactly constitutes an adverse employment action. Common examples include:

  • Termination or dismissal
    Demotion or reduction in job responsibilities
  • Reduction in pay or hours
  • Denial of promotions or job opportunities
  • Harassment or creation of a hostile work environment
A worker is unfairly discriminated against by an employer

When to Sue

1. Unlawful Discrimination

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, age, or sexual orientation, among other categories. If your employer takes an adverse employment action against you due to any of these protected classes, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

2. Retaliation

Under both federal and California law, retaliation against an employee for engaging in protected activities is illegal. These protected activities include filing or participtaing in the filing of a complaint of discrimination or harassment, or opposing discriminatory practices. If an employer takes an adverse action against you because of these activities, you may be able to sue.

3. Breach of Contract

If an adverse employment action violates the terms of an employment contract, whether written, oral, or implied, you may be able to sue for breach of contract. This situation may arise if you were terminated without just cause, contrary to the terms in your employment agreement.

4. Whistleblower Protection

California law provides protection for whistleblowers — employees who report or disclose information about their employers’ activities that they reasonably believe to violate laws or regulations. If you face adverse action because you engaged in whistleblowing, you can file a lawsuit against your employer.

5. Violation of Public Policy

If an adverse employment action is against a fundamental public policy, you may have a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. For instance, if you were fired for exercising a legal right or refusing to break the law at your employer’s request, you could potentially sue.

Taking Action against your employer

Before initiating a lawsuit, it’s crucial to exhaust all possible internal remedies such as reporting to Human Resources or using any complaint procedures your employer provides. If these actions prove ineffective, you may file a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Upon receiving a right-to-sue letter from these agencies, you may proceed with a lawsuit. It is important to consult with an employment law attorney to fully understand your rights, responsibilities, and the potential outcomes of your case.

In conclusion, California law provides comprehensive protections for employees facing adverse employment actions. If you believe you have been unlawfully treated, consulting an employment lawyer can help you determine the best path forward to preserve your rights and seek justice.

* The articles provided on the Stalwart Law website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be used as professional legal advice or as a substitute for legal consultation with a qualified attorney.  

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