I get a lot of calls from people who just got fired and they want to know if they have a case against their ex-employer. Often, the caller was let go over an incident where they feel that the company got its facts wrong regarding a dispute with a co-worker.
First and foremost, Ohio is an “at-will” state, which means an employer can terminate (fire) an employee for no reason at all. Maybe they just want less workers on payroll. Maybe they just don’t like the employee. Likewise, an employee can leave the job at any time just because they don’t like their boss or the work environment. This does not apply to workers with contracts, or to those who work through a union.
What makes for a lawsuit is when an employee is fired for a discriminatory reason. Generally speaking, no employer can fire an employee based on their race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or age (over 40). We have laws in place that protect “classes” of people so that they cannot be fired simply for belonging to a class. This also includes those who are not fired, but are disciplined, demoted, or passed over for a promotion. It could also include a situation where an employee is not fired, but a hostile work environment is created by the way she is treated, causing her to quit – the law may determine that such an employee is “constructively” terminated. Obviously, this can be very hard to prove, because most employers will not simply tell an employee they are being fired for a discriminatory reason. Instead, a seemingly valid reason will be brought up.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also provides protections for employees with disabilities. An employer must make reasonable accommodations for that employee.
Sometimes Life is Unfair – But Talk to a Lawyer Before You Give Up
This blog is too short to go into all the factors that make for a viable case of employment discrimination, so I would always recommend calling an attorney to go over your situation. However, sometimes it turns out that there is nothing legally you can do about being fired or disciplined. If the company thinks that you are bad at your job, they can fire you (even if they are wrong). If the company thinks a problem in the workplace is your fault, they can fire you (even if they are wrong). What they cannot do is fire you because of your race, sex, or religion and then pretend it is for some other reason. A good lawyer can help spot the difference and use available discovery tools in litigation to get to the root of the issue.