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When a Contract Is Terminated, Is There California Wrongful Termination?

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San Jose, CASan Jose State track and cross-country coach Ron Davis filed a $2.25 million California wrongful termination lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court against San Jose State last month. Davis claims he was racially discriminated against, which is in violation of the California wrongful termination law.

In May 2013, Davis’ attorney, Waukeen McCoy, announced that coach Ron Davis planned to file a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the school - one day after The Spartans, who hired Davis last spring with a one-year contract, announced that he would not be re-appointed. “We tried to resolve the issue prior to this point, but they [SJSU] have flatly refused to deal with us,” McCoy said.

Only two days after the former coach was fired, San Jose State announced the hiring of another coach. (During Davis’ tenure, the 2012-13 Western Athletic Conference men’s and women’s teams finished last - results which were in line with performances of previous teams, according to Mercury News.)

Davis, 72 years old and an African-American, is a member of the Spartans’ athletic Hall of Fame and former NCAA cross-country champion. In the lawsuit, Davis claims that the school terminated his contract after one year because it was racially biased - a violation of the California labor law. The suit further alleges that athletic director Gene Bleymaier mounted a campaign to oust Davis and caused emotional distress that led to heart tests and a recent stroke.

The university said Davis’ termination was straightforward: his one-year contract expired and was not renewed. A university spokesperson said “this is a personnel matter that we cannot discuss publicly other than to say the university has strict policies against discrimination and retaliation, and the university denies in the strongest terms any allegations that it discriminated or retaliated against Ron Davis in any way and for any reason,” according to the Mercury News.

The two most widely recognized types of employment-related lawsuits are wrongful termination - discharging an employee for invalid reasons, and discrimination - denial of equal treatment to employees of a protected class.

Research indicates that about 60 percent of employers can expect to be sued by a prospective, current or former employee, a statistic that increased over the past four or five years as the economy plummeted. Some people believe that employees take desperate measures in desperate times and are eager to jump on the wrongful-termination lawsuit “bandwagon.” But they don’t go looking to be wrongfully terminated.


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