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California jury awards $2.7 million for wrongful termination

Challenging an unfair employment termination sometimes can be an uphill battle. Under California law, an employer generally does not need to have a reason to fire an employee. But that does not mean that the company may fire an employee for whatever reason it wants. If an employer fires someone for a reason that is illegal or violates the term of an employment contract, the discharged employee may have a viable claim for wrongful termination.

A recent jury verdict in a wrongful termination case against Oakland-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory requires the lab to pay in excess of $2.7 million to five former employees who were laid off in a workforce reduction. Lab management had selected the employees for layoff over workers having fewer years of service. The former employees claimed their dismissals violated the terms of an employment agreement providing "reasonable cause" as the only ground for termination.

The jury agreed and awarded the five former workers reimbursement of their back wages. The individual amounts awarded ranged from just over $240,000 to more than $850,000. The lab now faces additional litigation as a result of the workforce reduction. Another 125 laid-off workers have similar claims pending against the lab with trials yet to come.

If an employee is covered under the terms of a union collective bargaining agreement or other employment contract specifying that the employee may be discharged only for "reasonable cause" or "just cause," the employer must comply with those terms. If the employee is fired for a reason other than cause, he or she could possibly pursue a wrongful termination claim for lost wages.

Source: Fresno Bee, "Livermore lab jury awards $2.7 million Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/05/14/3298382/livermore-lab-jury-awards-27-million.html#storylink=cpy", May 14, 2013

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