10 Famous Wrongful Termination Lawsuits in U.S. History

Wrongful Termination

The United States has one of the most developed legal provisions regarding employee protection. The phrase ” wrongful termination” is used in legal circles to mean that one has terminated an employee without reasonable cause and did not follow the procedure. Surprisingly, according to Working America, no single legislation is said to be specifically established to protect the employee. Still, laws apply in different situations to protect the employee from exploitation. The question that the court addresses is whether there was any better way in which a specific legal issue could have been solved.

Common Grounds Which May Constitute Unlawful Termination

Different statutes and the application of common law have identified the following grounds to amount to unlawful termination:

  • Firing an employee on discriminatory grounds
  • Terminating an employee because they reported work-related illegality
  • Terminating an employee because they failed to take unlawful instructions
  • Using political, religious, or personal opinion as a ground to terminate an employee
  • Terminating an employee because they tried to organize or participate in forming a union
  • Terminating an employee because they failed to perform a certain duty due to the inadequacies of the employer

NB: Though the following cases do not mention the value of the monies, they are famous in legal circles because they serve as reference points for interpreting the relevant laws. The cases also demonstrate how parties would go to solve a legal matter, for they originate from the lower courts to the supreme court.

10. Kasten vs. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation

The respondent fired Kevin Kasten in 2006. According to the plaintiff, the company fired him for complaining about where the latter had placed the time clocks. Kasten complained that the time clock was away from where employees were supposed to change their workwear which meant that employees could not be paid for the time they were taking to change their PPEs. In defense, the respondent argued that the Fair Labor Standards Act did not cover the complaint. The bone of contention was to determine whether the time it takes to change workwear should be included in the calculation of the total working hours. In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme court affirmed that employees making either oral or written complaints are protected by the FLSA.

9. Thompson vs. North American Stainless, LP

Eric Thompson and Miriam Regalado (his fiancée) worked for the respondent. In 2002, Regalado got embroiled in gender-based discrimination with her supervisors and filed a complaint with the EEOC. After learning of the complaint, the respondent fired Thompson in retaliation. The District Court and 6th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Thompson’s case, siding with the company that it did not violate section 704 (a) of Title VII. Thompson went to the U.S Supreme Court in a show of one of the most spirited fights against an institution, and this time, he got justice. In a big win, all eight court judges determined that the respondent fired Thompson in retaliation.

8. Niels Kirk vs. Citi, Ade Discrimination Lawsuit ($3.2 million)

It is a common belief that lawyers sometimes complicate words for no reason. This case was centered on the word “old,” whether it was ever mentioned to the plaintiff or whether it was properly defined. The case emanated from an incident where a 51-year-old female colleague replaced Kirk while he was declared redundant at 55. Kirk went to court alleging that he was discriminated against based on age and that his replacement was almost the same age as him.

However, the company argued that there were other strengths that his replacement possessed. Upon the ruling, Citigroup Incorporated appealed and secured retail at the Higher Court, where the matter was to be heard afresh. The case is famous among legal scholars in that they are waiting to see what constitutes an employee’s age, among other determinations. For example, there is hope that guidance will be given on whether an employee with outdated skills can still be considered old.

7. Martinez vs. Rite Aid Group, Wrongful Termination Based on Poor Performance ($6 Million)

The California Superior Court is not a refuge for those who violate employees’ rights. On March 278, 2018, a jury seated at the court returned a verdict of $6 million against the Rite Aid Corporation for the wrongful termination of the 23-year-old plaintiff. The plaintiff was serving the company as a pharmacy technician, but in 2004, he suffered a work-related emotional injury. He took a medical leave, and upon returning to work, he was transferred to 4 stores over a short period of two and two and half years. Ultimately, he was terminated because he was poorly performing at work.

Martinez filed an administrative complaint at the EEOC. He also cited verbal harassment by her superior, who would call her “too old,” “psycho,” or ” crazy.” In August, she was initially awarded $3.4 million for compensation, and the company was slapped with a $4.8 million punitive fee. The matter went through several appeals until it was settled at this amount in 2018. In 2021, a court lowered the amount by $140,000.

6. Ms. Jeannette Ortiz vs. Chipotle, Termination Based on False Allegations ($8 million)

In 2018 a jury awarded Ortiz, a former manager at Chipotle Mexican Grill, for wrongful termination. In 2015, the manager was accused of stealing $626 (cash), allegedly placed in her employer’s safe in Fresno. Her superiors told her that the act was captured in a video, but when she requested to see it, they claimed it had been destroyed. Feeling targeted, she filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The jury hearing the matter awarded her $7.97 million. Even to a layman’s eyes, this appears to be a pure example of malice. The jury agreed with the argument by the plaintiff that she was being targeted because, earlier, she had filed a job-related injury claim on the wrist and the company wanted to defame her before the matter was determined.

The award included $1.97 million in compensation for the loss of her wages and $6 million to cater for emotional distress. When CBS News attempted to reach the company spokesperson for a comment on the matter, she did not respond. The case is another example of how callous employers can be.

5. David Duvall vs. Novant Health Incorporated, A White Man’s Discrimination Case ($10 million)

This case is astonishing for one reason: unlike many where blacks complain, here is a case of a white man. According to the ABC11, the plaintiff was employed as the Vice President of the respondent. Novant Health Incorporated is based in North Carolina and has 15 medical centers and more than 1700 physicians. According to the lawsuit, Duvall was a high performer who exceeded expectations.

According to his argument, he was fired without notice to create a space for the employer to recruit a black and a white woman to create gender balance in the top leadership. In siding with him, the jury agreed that he was fired because he was a man (replaced with women) from a minority white (Caucasian). According to court documents, the respondent could not prove that Duvall was of different gender and race. The lawsuit is important because it teaches us that though employers have the liberty to terminate employment with pay, they cannot do so to archive diversity.

4. Trish Williams vs. Wyndham Timeshare, Termination of a whistleblower ($20 million)

In November 2017, a jury seated at the Superior Court of California awarded $20 million to the plaintiff after agreeing that they were targeted for whistleblowing. In 2010, Williams reported that the company was defrauding elderly customers through its salespersons. The company representatives misdirected the elderly customers in opening and maxing their credit cards without any knowledge.

In addition, they provided wrong information regarding the maintenance fees, income returns from the timeshares, and interest rates. They also lied to the customers that if they invested a lot of money in the timeshares, they would get very high profits because the company would buy them back. Williams’s testimony proved that the company engaged in aggressive marketing. After the jury delivered its ruling, William’s lawyer appreciated noting the gruesome trial nature of the proceedings.

3. Elijah Turley vs. ArcelorMittal, A Racial Discrimination Case ($25 Million)

Business Insurance reported that in the June of 2012, a federal district court in Buffalo, New York had awarded $25 million to an employee who was racially discriminated. At his dismissal, Elijah worked in the respondent’s Lackawanna, New York facility. The company alleged that it terminated him because Elijah had drawn the “KKK” and ” King Kong” graffiti on its premises and that they had collaborated with a stuffed monkey with a nose on the neck hanging on his car.

Elijah alluded that the harassment started from 2005 to 2008. In response, the company denied the allegations and stated that Elijah had gone against its employee code of conduct. Whereas the company admitted that its investigation could not reveal who had made the drawings, it was corned on why it singled out Elijah in particular. The judge found it suitable to award the plaintiff the amounts involved.

2. Marlo Spaeth vs. Walmart, Violation of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) ($125 Million)

The plaintiff, Marlo Spaeth, joined Walmart in 1999 as a sales associate. Her performance reviews were outstanding. She started problems with her seniors after prolonged absenteeism, even after explaining that she had Down’s syndrome, which required him to have supper at the same time as they required him to be at work. The problem started in November 2014, when the company introduced a computerized-generated schedule, and he was required to report to work between 1300 hours and 1730 Hours.

Start even requested that her schedule be changed, but all was in vain. The conflict ensued; in July 2015, she was terminated by her employer’s representatives. Her termination letter stated that she still stood a chance to be rehired. Still, after several tries, Walmart declined, prompting her to file a complaint before the Equal Employment and Opportunities Commission. The jury hearing the matter was highly moved by the case and held Walmart for violating the Americans with Disability Act provisions. It imposed a penalty of 125 million.

1. A Mass Sex Discrimination Class Lawsuit Against Signet Jewelers ($175 million)

CNBC reported that on June 2022, Signet Jewelers had agreed to settle the case which had been brought against it by 68,000 female employees who alleged that they were being discriminated based on their gender. The company agreed to settle the matter after being advised that it would be more expensive to settle it with each class member. The female employees alleged that between 2004 and 2008, they were discriminated against during promotions.

Still, the matter created more public interest after some female employees alleged that they were sexually discriminated against at work. The complainants were basing their arguments on the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. Female employees argued in court that the plaintiff’s management had acquired the ” they start slow and they stay low” mentality towards them. Of the total monies paid, $125 million went to individual class members, both current and former, while the rest was used to cater for a legal fee.

In Conclusion

Many of the famous wrongful dismissal cases emanate from discrimination which remains a big social problem in the States. Some of them, such as Ms. Jeannette Ortiz Versus Chipotle, and Termination Based on False Allegations, carry out pure malice, which should be discouraged. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Equal Pay Acts have played a huge role in liberating American employees. However, this does not mean that the laws have stopped wrongful discrimination. The federal government should develop stricter laws on employers found wrongfully dismissing employees. State attorneys must take the appropriate actions against employers who are committing such offenses within their jurisdiction.

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