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Can I sue for wrongful termination?

Valencia, CA |

I recently had been fired from Ralph's for stealing from the company. ex: water, snacks, etc. I had never gotten a detention in school, let alone stolen anything from anyone. They said they had proof on security cameras, but I was never shown. I told them if I had ever taken anything from the store I would have had every intention of paying for it, and must have forgot. I never slipped items into my purse or tried to hide anything from anyone. Nothing was ever intentional. Another reason for my firing was "stealing" sample cookies. These cookies are clearly samples and I was probably one of 10 employees who sampled these regularly. This may relate: I was sexually harassed by an employee who has harassed before. After his suspension he was transferred to a diff. department, not fired.

Attorney Answers 4

  1. Nothing in these facts raises any issues that would support a sound case for wrongful termination. Just what you admit to here would likely be held to be a sufficient basis for the employer's decision.

    No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

  2. As Ms. McCall explained, there is no obvious wrongful termination claim arising from the facts you describe. Employment in California (and in most states) is at-will, meaning that an employer may terminate an employee at any time and for any reason or no reason. There are some exceptions, however. An employer may not terminate an employee on account of a protected characteristic (e.g., race, religion) or for engaging in protected activity (e.g., filing a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Otherwise, employers have very broad discretion to manage their work force.

    My answers to questions posted on AVVO are intended to provide general information only, and are not intended to be legal advice. Employment law issues typically require a careful case-by-case analysis. Consequently, if you feel that you need legal advice, I would encourage you to consult in person with an employment attorney in your area.

  3. You have received two (2) excellent answers. I wish to add a comment addressing the sexual harassment complaint relationship to a wrongful termination claim.

    In California, an employer may take an adverse employment action for any reason or no reason, but may not do so if the adverse employment action is motivated by a prohibited reason such as discrimination against a protected class like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, military service, disability, etc. or opposing illegal conduct. Illegal conduct would include sexual harassment. However, from your description, it appears that your employer acted appropriately by suspending and transferring the employee who sexually harassed you. In order to have a wrongful termination claim, you would have to prove that the termination was substantially motivated by your report of sexual harassment. If your complaint was very close in time to your termination, a court might draw an inference that they were related. However, your employer would argue that you would have been terminated regardless for theft.

  4. Generally the law is that the employer can terminate or discipline an at will employee for any reason, or even for no reason, as long as it is not an unlawful reason. Terminating you for believing, even erroneously, that you engaged in theft, or even just taking something and not paying for it unintentionally, is sufficient reason to terminate you.

    If you were terminated because you made a report of sexual harassment, you would have a claim. However, proving that it was the reporting and not the theft allegation may be a problem. If you prove you were terminated for both, in other words, terminated for a lawful reason and an unlawful one - a mixed motive - you would still get no damages in a lawsuit.

    Unless you are in management, as a Ralph's employee you are probably a member of a union. You probably have greater procedural rights related to termination as a union member than as a member of the general public. You should immediately contact your union representative and see if there is a way to challenge the termination using those channels.

    If you believe you can prove you were terminated because engaged in protected conduct (i.e. reporting sexual harassment) then you should locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site in the Find a Lawyer section, or go to, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.

    Good luck to you.

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