As an at-will state, Florida allows employers to fire any worker at any time — and for almost any reason. Restrictions exist, however. Employers cannot terminate employees on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, or pregnancy. They also cannot legally fire employees in retaliation for whistleblowing.
Unfortunately, many Florida employers fail to abide by protective state and federal legislation. Employees’ best option for recourse? Wrongful termination lawsuits. These aim to hold employers accountable while also allowing employees to obtain damages for lost wages. Many workers do not realize their potential for wrongful termination compensation, as no two cases look exactly alike. To get a better feel for wrongful termination in Florida, check out these helpful examples:
Workers’ Compensation for PTSD and Other Mental Health Issues
Many employers willingly cooperate with workers’ compensation when physical injuries are involved but change their colors for mental health issues. A prime example that hit headlines in March, 2018: A former Florida firefighter sued the City of Orlando for wrongful termination, claiming that he was fired due to his efforts to obtain workers’ compensation for PTSD. The firefighter’s condition emerged following the Pulse Nightclub shooting of 2016. Prior to his termination, he was highlighted as the 2017 Firefighter of the Year in recognition of his “selfless acts of heroism and bravery.”
Similar cases may involve employees suffering PTSD due to car crashes or other accidents that occur in the line of work. While employers may not refer to this condition (and the need for workers’ compensation) as the actual cause of termination, employees in such cases argue that other reasons for dismissal are mere excuses meant to cover the employer’s discriminatory behavior.
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A number of successful lawsuits have addressed wrongful termination based on an employee’s medical condition. When a disabling medical condition affects an employee’s ability to complete job tasks, the employer should offer accommodation whenever possible. And a health condition should not be the reason a worker is dismissed.
A recent example is a case recently litigated in the U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. In July, 2018, a Brower County jury awarded an employee $775,000 for disability discrimination that culminated in her termination. The plaintiff, who is deaf, was written up by her managers for speaking too loudly into a video phone supplied by the company. After she complained about this treatment which amounted to discrimination due to her disability, she was suspended and then terminated.
Sexual Harassment and Termination
It is often the case that sexual harassment at work ends in wrongful termination. In addition to sexual comments and propositions, harassment may also include coercion and retaliation. For example, an employee’s boss might suggest she can improve her position at the company — or prevent dismissal — by going along with his sexual demands. Known as a quid pro quo cause of action, this type of conduct can lead to a wrongful termination or constructive (forced resignation) termination case.
A recent example of this is a lawsuit against a travel company in West Palm Beach. In this case, which settled in August, 2018 for an undisclosed amount, the plaintiff alleged she was forced to rebuff the company president’s sexual advancements and propositions and then suffered backlash as a result. After a demotion, denial of salary increases and many other adverse acts, she said she was terminated without cause related to the sexual harassment.
There have been numerous examples of employers held accountable for discrimination based on race and/or national origin. Unlawful treatment along these lines can include harassment through name-calling and offensive jokes, unwarranted discipline, and wrongful termination.
In a July 2018 case, a Miami company agreed to pay $2.5 million to 17 black employees who had worked as hotel dishwashers. The workers had apparently been forbidden from speaking to each other in their native language, Creole, although Hispanic employees were permitted to speak Spanish. The Haitian workers were also allegedly referred to as “slaves” by their Hispanic supervisor. Ultimately, the workers say, they were terminated and replaced with white and Hispanic employees.
Age discrimination harms a significant portion of Florida’s workforce. It’s no secret that the state’s population skews toward the older end of the spectrum; the United States Census Bureau reports that nearly 20 percent of Florida residents are age 65 or older. Many more are in their 50s and early 60s; these individuals constitute some of the state’s finest employees. Sadly, they face discriminatory behavior in the workplace and, often, termination merely because they’re “too old.” Affected employees may sue on the basis of the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, which bars employers from discriminating based on age.
A relevant example: in a 2018 case filed with the Pinellas Circuit Court, a former employee alleged that he suffered discriminatory remarks while working for Agora Sales Inc. and was ultimately fired due to his age.
Whistleblowing and Retaliation
Compliance issues abound among Florida employers, yet many workers remain reluctant to shine a light on workplace violations. Their fears are valid; many whistleblowers ultimately lose their jobs. Such was the case for Dr. Ahmad Chaudhry, who faced unfair repercussions for raising concerns about unsafe practices at the Florida Hospital. Dr. Chaudhry alleges that he was fired because he threatened to report the hospital’s many safety violations to the United Network for Organ Sharing. An Orlando jury ultimately awarded Dr. Chaudhry $2.85 million for wrongful termination.
In another notable whistleblowing case, a former advisor sued UBS Financial Services, alleging that he was fired due to his cooperation in an elder abuse investigation involving a former colleague. His lawsuit asserts whistleblowing violations of both the federal Dodd-Frank Act and a Florida statute.
What to Do If You Were Wrongfully Fired
Wrongful termination occurs at every level in every industry. These cases can be tough to recognize; when in doubt, it’s important to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. Call Feldman Williams today to learn more about wrongful termination or to schedule a case consultation.