A California jury took less than a day in deliberations to reach a verdict in favor of a Hollywood visual effects worker who was wrongfully fired by Ascent Media Group. The man, who was discharged after he saw a company executive using cocaine in the men’s room and reported the incident to his supervisor, will receive at least $450,000 for wrongful termination. The jury also determined that company officials acted with malice in firing the man. This triggered a second phase of the trial to determine if the fired worker is also entitled to punitive damages.
In its defense, the company alleged the worker was discharged for invading the executive’s privacy by videotaping him in the restroom. The former employee denied the videotaping claim. The jury agreed, finding the reason offered by the employer was a pretext for retaliatory discharge.
Employers generally do not need to give a reason for firing their employees. Under California employment law, however, it is unlawful to discharge an employee in retaliation for reporting illegal activities, unsafe working conditions, fraud or other employment violations, or for refusing to commit illegal acts. Unlawful retaliation is exposed with evidence that the employee engaged in one of these protected activities, the employer knew about it and the employee suffered some negative employment action as a result.
As the recent California case illustrates, juries can be receptive to claims of retaliation in wrongful discharge cases. If it is believed that one was fired for doing the right thing, an experienced wrongful termination attorney can assist with an investigation of the events leading to the discharge to determine if there is evidence of retaliation.
Source: Associated Press, “$450K For Fired Southern California Worker Who Tattled On Cocaine Use,” Oct. 25, 2012