Question: My boss fired me today without any reason and without any warning. Can I sue him for wrongful termination?
Answer provided by: Harold M. Goldner, Esq. from Kraut Harris, P.C.
Probably not for “wrongful termination,” but that doesn’t mean your firing was lawful.
Pennsylvania is an “at-will” state, which means you can be fired at any time for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. You might be the best salesperson, best clerk, best assembler in the shop, and if you employer doesn’t like the shoes you’re wearing one day, they can fire you. An employer does not need to give you a reason for the firing, or even a warning.
You can’t be fired if it will violate “public policy,” which Pennsylvania courts interpret to mean “legislative actions.” So, for example, you can’t be fired for bringing a Workers Compensation claim because the legislature passed the Workers Compensation Act. You can’t be fired for responding to a jury duty summons because the legislature passed a law requiring you to serve on a jury if summoned.
When you’re fired because of your membership in a “protected classification,” which, according to state law means race, sex, color, age (over 40), disability, religion or family status, and according to many local laws includes sexual affinity and identity, that’s not called “wrongful termination.” It’s called “employment discrimination.”
Employment discrimination claims must first be presented to either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission before an individual can file suit in a court. You need to demonstrate that: (1) you’re a member of a protected classification; and (2) you suffered an adverse employment action. The employer then needs to state a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the firing. If you can show that their reason was just an excuse by undermining or disproving their reason, that “pretext” may be used to infer discriminatory intent.
Many of these claims require that a complaint be filed within as little as 180 days, so if you suspect that your firing was unlawful, you should seek out the advice of an employment lawyer as soon as possible.
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More about this Montgomery Bar Association member-panelist (bio provided by this attorney prior to publication):
Harold M. Goldner is of counsel at Kraut Harris, P.C. His practice focuses on employment law and he represents both employees and employers in disputes arising under contracts, non-compete covenants, and anti-discrimination laws. He is also the Chair of the Township of Lower Merion Human Relations Commission, and plays oboe in the Lansdowne Symphony Orchestra.
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