“I just got fired! Can I sue for wrongful termination?” I hear that a lot from people who’ve lost their jobs, and my answer is almost always no. That’s because in Minnesota, the law does not recognize a legal claim for “wrongful termination.” Because of that, “wrongful” does not always equate to “unlawful.”
But that employee may have a case based on other legal principles. So, when someone asks if they can sue for wrongful termination, we’ll follow up with many questions of our own to find out if there is a recognized legal claim we can make to protect the employee’s rights.
There are many legal claims that a wrongfully terminated employee might be able to pursue, but some of the most common among them are:
- Discrimination Claims. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA)says that employers may not fire (or take other adverse action against) employees based on their “race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, familial status, membership or activity in a local [human rights] commission, disability, sexual orientation, or age.” The MHRA defines both “sex” and “familial status” to include protections for pregnant women. Many federal laws offer similar protections.
- Retaliation (or Reprisal) and Whistleblower Claims. Many federal and state laws say that employers must not fire employees in retaliation or as reprisal for exercising certain rights. For example, the MHRA bans employers from taking action against employees who complain about unlawful discrimination or harassment. The Minnesota Whistleblower Act makes it unlawful for an employer to fire (or take other adverse action against) an employee who: in good faith reports a violation, a suspected violation, or a planned violation of the law to the employer or to the government; is requested by the government to participate in an investigation; or “refuses an employer’s order to perform an action that the employee has an objective basis in fact to believe violates any state or federal law or rule or regulation adopted pursuant to law, and the employee informs the employer that the order is being refused for that reason.”
- Breach of Contract Claims. Sometimes employers make promises to employees. They might promise that employees will only be fired after certain steps are taken (such as mandatory progressive discipline or pre-termination warnings). Or, they might promise that employees will only be fired for certain reasons. If those promises are broken, the employee may have a breach of contract claim against the employer.
Employees who are fired in violation of these laws generally have a right to sue their former employers and to recover their lost wages. Sometimes the law allows them to recover other damages and their attorney’s fees and court costs as well.
We hope that you are never in one of these situations and that you have the opportunity to enjoy a long, prosperous, and rewarding career with whoever you are working for. But, if you ever get fired and believe it was unfair, please give us a call. We’ll dig deep to help uncover whether your firing was not just a wrongful one but was actually an unlawful termination that we can do something about.
This article is for general information purposes only and is not to be considered or used as legal advice.