When an employee feels they have been unjustly dismissed from their position, they have the responsibility of proving the unjust nature of the termination. In this context, “burden of proof” refers to the obligation to present evidence to the court to support one’s claims, and a wrongful termination attorney in Jackson County, Missouri is crucial to succeeding in this process.
Defining Wrongful Termination
Wrongful termination refers to situations where an employer has fired or laid off an employee in violation of legal protections.
Understand that not all unfair or unjust terminations are legally “wrongful.”The circumstances of the dismissal must contravene specific legal rights or protections.
Understanding the Burden of Proof
The “burden of proof” in a legal case refers to the obligation of a party to substantiate their claim with credible evidence. In wrongful termination cases, the burden of proof typically falls on the employee, meaning it’s up to the terminated worker to prove that their dismissal was not just unfair, but actually unlawful.
In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, and the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, in civil cases like wrongful termination suits, the standard is typically “a preponderance of the evidence,” meaning you must only prove that it is more likely than not that the wrongful termination occurred. Despite this lower bar for proof in a civil case, it can be very difficult to prove wrongful termination, and especially without an experienced attorney.
Building Your Case
Collecting and presenting compelling evidence is a critical part of meeting your burden of proof. In a wrongful termination case, you may use a variety of evidence types. These may include emails, text messages, memos, or other documentation that indicates the reason for your termination.
If there were witnesses to discriminatory or retaliatory behavior, their testimony could also serve as vital evidence. In some cases, patterns of behavior within the company, such as a history of discriminatory practices, can provide contextual evidence supporting your claim.
Once an employer presents a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination, it becomes crucial for the employee to demonstrate that the reason provided is a pretext. This essentially means proving that the employer’s stated reason is false and that the real reason for termination was unlawful.
A lawyer skilled in these types of cases is your best ally here. An experienced wrongful termination attorney will have analyzed employer excuses many times and will be alert to when an employer is covering their true motives.
Initially, the employee carries the burden to establish a prima facie case of wrongful termination. Once that is achieved, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate reason for termination. If the employer provides such a reason, the burden shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer’s reason is a pretext.
In many cases, comparative evidence can be compelling when proving wrongful termination. This involves comparing how the employer treated you with how similarly situated employees were treated. If you were treated less favorably under the same or similar circumstances, this could serve as persuasive evidence of wrongful termination.
Causation is a crucial element in wrongful termination cases. Essentially, you need to prove that the unlawful reason (such as discrimination or retaliation) was the cause of your termination. Even if an employer had both a legitimate and an illegal reason for the termination, if the illegal reason was a motivating factor, you may still have a valid wrongful termination claim.
Timing can also play a significant role in wrongful termination cases. For example, if you were terminated shortly after reporting illegal activity or after disclosing a protected characteristic (like pregnancy or a disability), the timing can be very helpful in supporting your claim. This is one reason keeping records is so important.
Legal Yet Unfair Reasons for Termination
Employment in Missouri is typically considered “at-will.” This means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all, as long as the termination doesn’t violate any specific laws or contractual terms. Consequently, several potentially unfair, yet legal, reasons can lead to a termination:
It may be surprising, but an employee can be legally fired due to personality clashes with colleagues or supervisors, even if these disputes don’t interfere with job performance.
Companies often have to make tough decisions in challenging economic circumstances. This could mean layoffs due to budget cuts or restructuring, even if the affected employees are performing their jobs satisfactorily. One employee may be let go while another is kept, even though both have performed similarly. This is not illegal in itself.
Employers can terminate an employee due to performance issues, even if these are contentious or subjective.
Company Policy Violations
Breaching company policies, even if they appear trivial or unreasonable, can be a legitimate cause for termination.
Illegal Reasons for Termination
There are specific circumstances under which termination is considered illegal. These usually involve the violation of federal and state employment laws, including:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Other federal and state laws further protect against discrimination based on age, disability, pregnancy, and religion.
Employers are not allowed to fire employees for engaging in protected activities such as reporting harassment, discrimination, or workplace safety violations or participating in an investigation into such claims.
Refusal to Commit an Illegal Act
If an employer demands that an employee engage in illegal activity as part of their job and the employee refuses, firing the employee for this refusal is illegal.
Violation of Employment Contract
If there is an employment contract (whether written or implied) in place that provides specific protections against termination, violating these terms can be considered illegal.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Violations
The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take leave for specified family and medical reasons. An employer cannot legally terminate an employee for taking FMLA leave.
Potential Remedies for Wrongful Termination
The remedies for a wrongful termination case depend on the specifics of the situation but can include back pay for wages lost due to the termination, reinstatement to your position, front pay (expected future earnings), compensatory damages for emotional distress, and in some cases, punitive damages intended to punish the employer for particularly egregious conduct.
Keep in mind that each case is unique, and the achievable remedies will depend on factors such as the nature of the wrongful termination, the extent of the damages suffered, and the specifics of state and federal laws as they apply to your situation.
Consult a Wrongful Termination Attorney in Jackson County, Missouri
Meeting the burden of proof in a wrongful termination case is a nuanced process that requires strategic planning, a careful review of the evidence, and a deep understanding of relevant laws. It’s a challenging endeavor, but with the right support, you can secure the justice you deserve. In these difficult times, we are here for you. Reach out to Holman Schiavone, LLC, today, and our skilled attorneys will be ready to champion your rights and guide you through every step of your wrongful termination case.