In Focus: Wrongful Termination

By Douglas Lipsky

In New York, people who work hard to make a living are often unaware that they work “at will.” In other words, they can be fired at any time, without good cause, or for any reason at all. Obviously, employees can be fired for legitimate reasons — layoff, poor performance, or violations of company policy. On the other hand, employees who are fired for unlawful reasons may have grounds for a lawsuit based on wrongful termination.

Although a wrongful termination claim can sometimes be hard to prove, legal action can arise under a variety of circumstances, such as:

  • Discrimination — Local, state, and federal laws prohibit employers from terminating an employee based on a legally protected characteristic, including, but not limited to, race, color, national origin, sexual identification, pregnancy, being a caregiver, disability, religion, or age (40 or older). While federal statutes only apply to employers with 15 or more employees, the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws apply to almost every employer and provide protections to a wider class of employees. If you believe you were terminated due to your status as a member of a protected class, an experienced attorney can file a wrongful termination lawsuit on your behalf based on discrimination.
  • Retaliation — In addition to discrimination, it is also unlawful for an employer to fire, demote, or retaliate against any employee who (1) complains about discrimination or harassment in the workplace, (2) complains about not getting paid properly or (3) participates in any proceeding, such as a lawsuit or investigation, concerning  any legally protected activity. While terminating an employee is an overt form of retaliation, it is also illegal for supervisors and coworkers to harass an employee who complains about an employer’s unlawful conduct.

Other Grounds for a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Generally, employees cannot be terminated in violation of a written contract or under the following conditions:

  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim
  • Reporting a whistleblower complaint
  • Reporting a dangerous or hazardous work condition

Why This Matters

Because New York is an at will state, proving a wrongful termination claim can be complicated. Employers sometimes have an unfair advantage over employees who have been fired, and may try to justify their actions by claiming the termination was performance related. Moreover, most employers typically require workers who are being terminated to sign a severance agreement. These contracts typically include a provision whereby the employee agrees not to sue the employers. Nonetheless, if you believe you have been the victim of wrongful termination, you should consult the experienced employment law attorneys at Lipsky Lowe.


About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.