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Pregnant Worker Wins California Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

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California self-storage clerk, fired for being pregnant, walks away with $1.3 million.

Oakland, CAWhen Eva O’Brien told her boss she was pregnant, he went nuts. He yelled, threw papers, made rude comments about her big belly and breast feeding. Then got in really close to ask if she wanted to quit. She didn’t and things got worse. Lower-paid hourly employees are among the most vulnerable and the least likely to file lawsuits, even in response to outrageous conduct. California wrongful termination law can protect workers like Eva under the “wrongful termination in violation of public policy” provision. But these lawsuits take endurance.

Bad to worse

The events suggest that Dennis Baca, Eva’s boss, wanted her to quit so that he would not have to pay unemployment. He collected her facility keys and prohibited her from using the computer, answering the phone, or collecting rental checks, which was her usual job. Her new task was to clean the office, including windows and toilets. She was often sent home early.

Feeling that her schedule and earnings were completely uncertain, she filed a claim with the California Employment Development Department for reduction in hours. She was fired, and her time records were forged to indicate that she resigned.

Eva filed suit under the provisions of the California Labor Code claiming sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, retaliation, failure to pay wages and overtime, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The last is a rapidly developing aspect of California wrongful termination law that may give greater protection to California workers.

California wrongful termination in violation of public policy rules

In California, the usual assumption is that employers can fire employees at will. Federal and state laws have created exceptions to protect employees from particular forms of employment discrimination. California’s “wrongful termination in violation of public policy” is among the broadest of these protections.

Under this rule, employees may not be fired for an illegal reason or motivation. The policy reasons are set out under the California Constitution, statutes or regulations, as those authorities are interpreted by California courts. That is a lot of policy latitude. Among those forbidden reasons are sexual or gender-based discrimination. But the conduct described by Eva O’Brien was so egregious that it might actually have fit under any number of policy umbrellas.

She who laughs last, laughs best

Following trial, Eva was awarded $325,000 in compensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages and costs. Baca appealed, claiming that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict and that he could not afford to pay. The court was unsympathetic.

But for Eva and her family, it has been a long haul – six years since the lawsuit was filed. That baby is probably in school, by now. By the time he or she goes to work, California wrongful termination laws may provide even more powerful protections for California workers.


California Wrongful Termination Legal Help

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