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.
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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.