charged with a felony for stealing ($100). plead no contest. Can I still sue the employer for wrongful termination or such? How is the no contest going to affect the case?
The short answer is "yes," you can always sue for wrongful termination, but "no" that does not mean you are going to win. Unless you have signed a release of your claims against the employer, nothing prohibits you from alleging wrongful termination in a court of law.
First of all, what about your termination makes it "wrongful"? In California, the default position under the law is that you are an "at-will" employee and you can be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason at all, provided it is not an unlawful reason. (California Labor Code 2922) "Unlawful" reasons include discrimination on the basis of a protected classification such as race, gender, disability, religion, marital status, veteran status, national origin, age, and genetic characteristics. It can also include protected activities like participating in a Union or reporting unlawful conduct to an outside government agency.
Under California Penal Code 1203.4, the employer is prohibited from asking you about or making employment decisions based on an arrest that does not lead to a conviction, but you have now been convicted and the restriction does not apply. A felony conviction is a felony conviction, regardless of whether you plead no contest or you were later found guilty by a jury of your peers.
Thus, unless you have some evidence that a protected characteristic or activity motivated your termination, you are unlikely to succeed on your wrongful termination claim. The employer is going to respond that it would have fired you anyways for stealing from the company, which is a legitimate reason to terminate an employee whether it results in a conviction or not, and if you pled no contest you are going to have a very difficult time rebutting that argument.
If you believe you have evidence of unlawful motivation that is stronger than the evidence you were terminated for theft, you should consult with a local employment lawyer about it. They will be able to evaluate everything and let you know if it is worth pursuing or not.
The information provided in this Answer is offered for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or counseling. You should not rely on the information herein in assessing your legal rights, determining to take legal action, in any formal papers filed in a legal or administrative forum, or in any way whatsoever. Moreover, this Answer does not create an attorney-client relationship - only the formal, written agreement required by the State Bar of California can do that. You should always have a full consultation with a lawyer if you are contemplating any sort of legal action.
My understanding is that a plea of no contest is legally indistinguishable from a "guilty" verdict. Either way it is a conviction.
Disclaimer: This reply does not constitute legal advice or the establishment of an attorney-client relationship, and constitutes only general guidance based on the limited information provided, and may not take into account additional relevant facts and circumstances pertaining to your specific situation.
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