In the state of Missouri, employment is typically “at will.” This means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal. However, there are situations where termination violates federal or state laws, and when that happens, you need a wrongful termination lawyer. If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated, contact a Jackson County, Missouri attorney right away.

Have I Been Wrongful Terminated?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired for reasons that are illegal: but bear in mind that “illegal” is different from “unethical” or even “unfair.” Illegal reasons to fire an employee include discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, or disability; retaliation for engaging in legally protected activities (like whistleblowing or filing a discrimination complaint); breach of contract; and violation of public policy. To know for certain, you need to talk with an attorney about the specifics of your case.

First Steps in Proving Your Case

Gather Evidence

Document everything related to your termination, from the moment you find out about it or suspect it’s coming. This includes emails, performance reviews, witness statements, and any communication you’ve had with your employer. This evidence should demonstrate a pattern or incident that suggests your firing was illegal.

Get a Wrongful Termination Lawyer

Getting through all the complexities of wrongful termination claims requires professional legal guidance by a lawyer with experience in and intimate knowledge of state and national law. A Missouri-based employment lawyer can help you understand the specifics of your case and whether you have a viable claim. They can then assist in gathering and presenting evidence, negotiating with your employer, and, if necessary, representing you in court.

Next Steps

With your attorney’s help, you’ll look at contracts and policies and then work to establish the basis of your claim, make good use of your evidence, demonstrate a link between your claim and the termination you experienced, and file a claim with the appropriate legal entity.

Review Employment Contracts

If you had an employment contract, reviewing its terms could be helpful in proving your case. Missouri law honors the terms of an employment contract, and if your termination violated any of these terms, that could be grounds for a wrongful termination claim. For instance, if your contract states that you can only be fired for specific reasons, and your termination doesn’t align with any of these, it could be considered a breach of contract.

Evaluate Your Employer’s Policies

Employer policies, often outlined in an employee handbook, can also play a role in wrongful termination claims. If your employer didn’t follow their own termination procedures, it might strengthen your case. However, remember that these policies do not override Missouri’s at-will employment principle unless they explicitly create a contract.

Establish the Basis of Your Claim

The basis of your claim could be discrimination, where you’ll need to prove that you were terminated due to your race, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability. Evidence for this might include discriminatory comments or actions. If your case is about retaliation, you should demonstrate that your termination was a response to engaging in protected activities, like filing a harassment complaint.

In cases of breach of contract, you’ll need to show how the termination violated specific terms of your employment contract. If it’s a violation of public policy, such as being fired for filing for workers’ compensation, this also needs to be clearly demonstrated.

Make Good Use of Your Evidence

Gather all the evidence you’ve collected: this includes all relevant documentation like emails, text messages, employment contracts, employee handbooks, performance reviews, and any written reasons for your termination. You may also be able to get witness statements from colleagues who support your claims.

All of these together can provide insights into discriminatory practices or other relevant workplace issues. Your lawyer will show you how this evidence can be tied to the basis of your claim and compare it to how similarly situated employees were treated, as well.

Demonstrate a Link Between Your Claim and the Termination:

Demonstrating a link between your claim and the termination is a key aspect of proving your case. For example, the timing of your termination in relation to your taking part in a protected activity or to discriminatory remarks made against you can be significant.

Highlight any inconsistencies or shifting explanations from your employer regarding the reasons for termination. Direct evidence, such as explicit statements or actions from managers that link your termination to an illegal reason, can be particularly compelling, though employers are often smart enough not to give themselves away with such direct statements.

Filing a Claim with the Relevant Authorities

For discrimination or retaliation claims, filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) should be your next step. They will investigate your claim and can grant you the right to sue. Provide all the gathered evidence to support your claim when filing with these agencies: your lawyer will help you here.

Defending Your Case

Countering claims from your employer in a wrongful termination case will be a component of your legal strategy and something your lawyer will talk about with you in detail. Employers often present defenses to justify the termination, and effectively challenging these defenses can significantly strengthen your case. Rest assured that a qualified wrongful termination lawyer has “seen it all” and will know how to defend your claim.

Common Employer Defenses

Employers often argue that the termination was due to legitimate business reasons, such as poor performance, misconduct, restructuring, or economic necessity. They might present performance reviews, disciplinary records, or financial reports to support their stance.

The first step will be to scrutinize the credibility and consistency of your employer’s claims. This involves examining whether their stated reasons for termination were ever mentioned before your firing. For instance, if poor performance is cited as a reason, but you have a history of positive performance reviews, this discrepancy can be highlighted as evidence that the stated reason is a pretext.

Using Documentation and Witness Testimony

Documentation can be your strongest ally at this point, whether that is emails praising your work, records of promotions or raises, or any positive feedback received. Witness testimonies from colleagues who can attest to your performance or to any inconsistencies in the employer’s treatment of you or others can also be powerful.

Highlighting Timing and Context

The timing of your termination in relation to other events is often the most important factor. If you were fired shortly after making a complaint, engaging in a protected activity, or after revealing a protected characteristic (like a disability or pregnancy), this timing can suggest retaliation or discrimination. The context of your termination should also be examined.

Demonstrating Inconsistent Application of Policies

If your employer claims that the termination was due to a policy violation, investigate how consistently this policy has been applied. If similar violations by other employees did not lead to termination, this can indicate that the policy was being used selectively against you, possibly for unlawful reasons.

Challenging Economic Justifications

In cases where economic reasons are cited for layoffs or terminations, you and your lawyer will look deeply into the specifics. Were you the only one or among a few selected for termination? Was your position or department the only one affected? If the economic justification doesn’t seem to align with broader business decisions, this could indicate that the reason given is just a pretext.

Get Help in Jackson County, Missouri

If you suspect you’ve been wrongfully terminated, don’t wait to protect your rights. Contact the law office of Holman Schiavone, LLC right away. Call us today for a free consultation, toll-free, at (888) 493-5074.