Chicago-Area Wrongful Termination Lawyers
Our Chicago area Illinois employment attorneys are often asked: Can my boss fire me for that? Many people assume they were wrongfully terminated if their termination was unfair.
Illinois is an at-will state and, as such, an employee can generally be terminated from their position at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. While this is the general rule, there are many exceptions that have fallen into the general category of wrongful termination lawsuits.
If an employee is terminated in violation of an employment contract, in retaliation for exercising his or her rights, or because of a protected characteristic—such as race, religion, sex, age, or disability, the employee may have a wrongful termination lawsuit. Finally, employers are prohibited from terminating an employee in retaliation for engaging in protected activity—such as filing a workers compensation claim, reporting an employer’s unlawful conduct, being a whistleblower, and cooperating in a criminal investigation.
If you are wrongfully terminated, it is important that you contact an employment lawyer to avoid waiving the right to bring your lawsuit. All employment lawsuits have a time limitation in which you must either make an appropriate complaint with a governmental agency (for example the EEOC) or to file a lawsuit. Some of the deadlines to file wrongful termination claim are very short.
An example of a wrongful termination lawsuit (Crowley v. Wayne Watson) was decided in 2016. In that case, a lawyer employee at Chicago State University was awarded $480,000 in damages and punitive damages of $2 million. The jury further found that he was entitled to be reinstated. The trial court doubled the back pay to $960,000, ordered defendants to pay attorney fees of $318,173.33, and awarded prejudgment interest in the amount of $60,000 for a total of $1,338,173.33. The plaintiff claimed he was discharged in retaliation for contacting the Attorney General’s office and disclosing information he reasonably believed was a violation of the law. The Ethics Act claim at issue was found to be similar to “retaliatory discharge, a narrow exception to Illinois’s general rule of at-will employment”. A cause of action for retaliatory discharge similarly involves discharge in retaliation for protected activities, in violation of a clear public policy mandate. There were many significant issues raised in the appeal. Most notably, the defendants argued the damages were excessive. The court squarely disagreed. The defendants’ were found to have acted “nothing short of reprehensible and that they acted with malice and deceit.” They were found to have tried to protect their own reputation at the employee’s expense. This decision follows a trend showing that juries do not like employer retaliation. When employees are able to provide that there is a public interest at stake and an employee stands up for what is right, punitive damage awards are frequently substantial.