Were you wrongfully terminated?

This is a question that comes up a lot. The answer, typically, is no. Virginia is an “at-will” employment state, which means that an employer can fire you for any reason so long as it is not one that is prohibited by law.

A frequently seen pattern is where two coworkers don’t get along, one gets promoted to become the supervisor of the other, and the newly promoted supervisor then fires the other worker shortly afterwards. Let’s look at this. If this is all there is to the story, then there probably is not a wrongful termination.

In order for a firing to be a “wrongful termination” the firing must be because of some prohibited reason. Here, the two coworkers just don’t get along. Even if the manager said that he was firing him because they didn’t get along as coworkers and, that wouldn’t be a problem. It would be a problem, however, if the new manager fired his former coworker because of:

  • their age;
  • their race;
  • their religion;
  • their sex;
  • their national origin (the country they are from);

In order to prove this, the terminated coworker would have to have some proof of their new bosses’ discriminatory intent. That’s just a fancy way of saying that they’d have to be able to show bias or bigotry. They might be able to do that, for example, if the reason that they had not been getting along is that Mr. “New Supervisor” was always telling inappropriate and racist jokes. It’s pretty rare that this kind of explicit evidence exists.

Often, I ask potential clients: “Can you look yourself in the mirror and honestly say you think you were fired because of your age, race, sex, religion or nationality?” I call this the “mirror test.” It’s important because it helps people separate their anger at being terminated from the facts of their case. If you can’t pass the mirror test then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to win a wrongful termination discrimination case. This is because these cases can take a long time to resolve and the lives of the complainant’s can be subjected to intense scrutiny. If you don’t believe in your case, then it’s likely a judge or jury won’t either.

If you can pass the mirror test, however, you might want to seek out an attorney to go over the unique facts and circumstances of your case.

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