Alleging wrongful termination
How to properly allege a wrongful termination claim.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal recently addressed the issue of whether an employee sufficiently described his wrongful termination claim. On December 11, 2015, the court published its decision Prue v. Brady Co./San Diego, Inc. (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 1367, in which it considered such a claim based on disability discrimination.
In this case, Mr. Prue alleged the following. He suffered orthopedic and psychological injuries at work. Mr. Prue notified his employer of the injuries and treated for them at an emergency room as approved by his supervisor. He believed that his employer was aware that he was seeking worker’s compensation benefits for the injuries. His employer also knew about work restrictions. Nevertheless, in less than a month, Brady Co. terminated Mr. Prue.
Mr. Prue sued his employer for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. One public policy that he cited was the law prohibiting retaliation for seeking worker’s compensation benefits (Labor Code section 132a). He also referred to the law against employment discrimination based on disability.
Brady Co. sought dismissal of the case on three grounds: (1) Mr. Prue’s claim could only be pursued through the worker’s compensation system, (2) he did not file his case within one year of the termination (statute of limitations), and (3) the termination had not violated any public policy. Mr. Prue contended that he sought relief for actions taken by his employer because of his work-related injury and disability. He asserted that his wrongful termination claim was based on the public policy reflected in California’s employment discrimination law and requested that he be allowed to amend his complaint accordingly. The trial court dismissed Mr. Prue’s case on grounds his wrongful termination claim could not be based on Labor Code section 132a and that he filed his case too late (not within a year of the termination); and after denying Mr. Prue’s request to amend his complaint.
On appeal, Mr. Prue asserted that his wrongful termination claim was based on the public policy contained in the disability discrimination law. The court of appeal looked to Mr. Prue’s complaint to determine whether it put Brady Co. on notice that Mr. Prue was making such a claim. It noted that the complaint made several references to the disability discrimination law and that there were references to physical and psychological conditions. Accordingly, the complaint alleged that Mr. Prue suffered a disability, he was capable of performing his job, he was terminated, and that Brady Co. knew of the disability when it terminated Mr. Prue. These allegations alone supported a valid wrongful termination claim. Consequently, the court did not determine whether the wrongful termination claim was also properly based on Labor Code section 132a.
The appellate court also noted that Mr. Prue was not confined to the worker’s compensation system for relief. The California Supreme Court had already determined that Labor Code section 132a does not preclude a wrongful termination claim based on disability discrimination.
Mr. Prue also asserted that his wrongful termination claim has a two-year statute of limitations. The court of appeal agreed after reviewing several prior decisions that have come to the same conclusion. The time to file a wrongful termination claim is based on the general statute of limitations for personal injury as opposed to the limitations periods for the underlying public policy.
Based on these findings, the court of appeal reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Mr. Prue’s case.