Litigation Topics: Wrongful Termination

Courts Uphold “Ministerial Exception” in Wrongful Termination Case; Religious School Exempt from Title VII, ADA and FEHA; Key is Religious Nature of Employer and Religious Nature of Employee's Duties


The First Amendment protects religious freedom and, because of that important right, religious institutions are entitled to an exemption from civil rights statutes that govern employment discrimination.  This principle was at the core of two important decisions, one from the U.S. Supreme Court and another from the California Court of Appeal.

Computer Fraud & Abuse Act: Unauthorized Use by Employees

An employee who makes unauthorized use of an employer’s computer equipment is subject to civil and criminal liability under the federal Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (“CFAA,” 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030).

Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision to Reinstate City Employee Accused of Sexual Harassment; City’s Failure to Abide by Time Limits in Collective Bargaining Agreement Proves Critical to Outcome

When a collective bargaining agreement contains a clause setting forth time limits for disciplinary action, courts will apply it, even if it means reinstating an employee who has been terminated for sexual harassment. 

Title VII Does Not Apply To Independent Contractors

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USC section 2000d) prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. But in order to state a claim, the plaintiff must be an employee.  The statute does not cover independent contractors, a fact confirmed in a ruling from the Ninth Circuit in Murray v. Principal Financial Group, Inc.

California Supreme Court Upholds Employee Rights By Allowing “Stray Remarks” To Help Prove Workplace Discrimination

One of the most troubling issues in employment litigation is the type of proof a person needs to present in order to prove discriminatory prejudice.  If the plaintiff presents evidence that various workers – other than the ultimate decision maker – uttered charged remarks (such as racial, sexist or ageist epithets), is that sufficient?  Or is more evidence required?

Covenants Not To Compete May Snag Subsequent Employers: If A Company Terminates an Employee Because the Person Signed an Invalid Non-Compete Agreement with a Prior Employer, It May Create Liability as a Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy

Covenants not to compete are invalid in California, except in very specific circumstances recognized in sections 16600-16602.5 of the Business & Professions Code.  The exceptions include cases where a person owns a business and sells goodwill to a successor; or where there is dissolution of a partnership or limited liability company.

Hostile Work Environment Claims under FEHA – Hostility Must be Directed at the Plaintiff

Sometimes one employee learns of racially-motivated harassment visited upon another employee.  But even though such treatment is wrong and upsetting, and even though the employee who observes it may perceive a “hostile work environment” directed at fellow employees who are members of another ethnic group, can that person file a claim under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)?

Expert Witness Fees May be “Scaled” In Consideration of a Party’s Modest Resources

Employee Free Speech: Ninth Circuit Discusses Whether Employee’s Speech is Within Official Duties; Factual Analysis Required to Assess Chain of Command Issues

Nelson Anthoine, a low-level employee of the North Central Counties Consortium, jumped the chain of command to report directly to the consortium’s chairman that his immediate supervisor had misrepresented the status of the consortium’s compliance with legal obligations.  The consortium discharged Anthoine and he sued, contending that he was fired in retaliation for his exercise of First Amendment rights.

Overtime Laws Do Not Apply to Ministers Employed by Religious Institutions; Court Clarifies the “Ministerial Exception”

An interesting problem arises when employees of religious organizations contend they are entitled to overtime. If the person is an “ordinary” employee (such as an office secretary), overtime laws may well apply. But if the person’s work is intimately related to the religious work of the entity, another approach governs. The courts have established a “ministerial exception” to state and federal laws and have held that ministers (and other religious employees) are exempt from such statutes.