How Much Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination? A Breakdown

Gavel resting next to money and wrongful termination paperwork
Florida’s right-to-work laws grant employers the freedom to end the employment of their employees at any moment. They do not have to give any prior notice before doing so, nor do they need to provide a reason as to why they have chosen to sever the employment relationship. Still, despite how that may sound, it does not mean that employers have unlimited power over their employees. The state’s right-to-work laws do not overshadow laws meant to protect employees from matters such as discrimination and whistleblower retaliation, for example. Florida has many laws in place that prohibit employers from violating the law when terminating an employee.

If your employer acts unlawfully as they move to cease your employment, you may be the victim of wrongful termination. The law allows you to take legal action against the employer to recover damages for their illegal action. Be that as it may, bringing a case against your employer can be confusing and intimidating if you do not have an experienced employment law attorney helping you along the way.

Understanding Wrongful Termination

Employees are laid off and terminated from their jobs on a daily basis, but not all of these incidents are wrongful under the law. Determining whether you are the victim of wrongful termination is the first step toward holding your employer accountable and recovering some type of compensation.

Definition of Wrongful Termination

Being terminated from your employment with a fair warning is never a pleasant experience, but even being terminated suddenly or without notice does not necessarily render the termination wrongful. In Florida, a right-to-work state, your employer can legally terminate your employment at any time, for nearly any reason, or no reason at all.

Wrongful termination, in particular, occurs when your employer fires you for an illegal reason. The employer does not need to specifically verbalize an illegal reason to be found liable. If evidence reveals that the true grounds for your termination were founded on an illegal basis, your wrongful termination suit can be successful.

Identifying Wrongful Termination in Florida

Cases involving a wrongfully terminated employee often involve situations in which the employee was let go for a discriminatory reason.

For example, if you approach your employer and inform them that you are pregnant, it would be illegal for your employer to fire you due to that pregnancy and the impending need for maternity leave. There are several federal and state laws that make pregnancy discrimination unlawful.

Lawyer and client reviewing wrongful termination paperwork

Another common scenario involving wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired due to reporting safety violations or other violations of the law. Those who report such matters to authorities are called “whistleblowers.” Employers cannot fire employees because they refuse to participate in illegal activities or report such activities.

When determining whether you are the victim of wrongful termination in Florida, the circumstances surrounding your termination matter, including the following:

  • Recent positive job reviews yet suddenly terminated under a pretextual basis
  • Recent requests for accommodations due to an illness, disability, or pregnancy
  • Reporting law or safety violations to state or federal authorities
  • Termination despite not having a history of disciplinary actions
  • The violation of an express or implied contract and/or
  • No clear reason, financial or otherwise, for the company to downsize so suddenly

Identifying wrongful termination without an explicit discriminatory or retaliatory statement from your employer can be challenging. It is helpful to have a skilled employment law attorney who can review your specific situation and uncover evidence of wrongful termination.

Potential Lawsuit Value: How Much Can You Sue for Wrongful Termination?

The purpose of bringing a lawsuit following a wrongful termination is to ensure that your employer bears the consequences of illegally firing you. This includes financial as well as other consequences. However, getting to the point where your employer actually compensates you can take time and persistence.

Knowing how much you can expect to receive from your case helps you in several ways. First, it can influence whether you agree to accept a settlement or you would rather insist on going to trial. If your employer offers a reasonable settlement that is close enough in value to what you could receive at trial, taking the settlement may make the most sense.

Secondly, if you know the value of your case, it can help you remain committed to seeing your claim through. In any lawsuit, there are moments of activity where you might have several back-to-back court hearings. But sometimes, there are lulls in the action, and patience becomes key. Knowing the value of the payout that potentially awaits you at the conclusion of your case can make enduring those recesses much more bearable.

Calculating Potential Damages

Determining the amount of damages you can expect to receive from your case requires consideration of the ways you have been impacted by your wrongful termination. Three general types of compensation are available to you when you have been wrongfully terminated. In calculating the worth of your case, you and your attorney will begin by considering which of these forms of payment are available.

The first involves economic damages. This is a form of compensation meant to reimburse you for the financial costs you have endured. Economic damages include the wages you could have earned had you stayed employed and any promotions or other increases in benefits you missed out on.

Secondly, seeing as wrongful termination can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental distress, you can also seek compensation for these non-economic damages. Any compensation you receive for these losses is designed to address these intangible but very real impacts.

Lastly, punitive or liquidated damages can be awarded in cases where your employer acted intentionally or purposefully. These damages are not necessarily meant to compensate you but instead to penalize the employer for their egregious conduct.

Factors Impacting the Value of Your Claim

The individual circumstances of each case significantly impact how much an employee can recover in a wrongful termination lawsuit. Thus, the compensation that one employee receives could differ drastically from another employee with the same exact company.

Listed below are just some of the factors that could impact the size of your recovery:

  • Your rate of pay at the time of termination;
  • Any additional or supplemental income you have been able to earn;
  • The strength of any available evidence that suggests discrimination or retaliation;
  • How long you have been unemployed despite reasonable efforts to find another job; and/or
  • Whether the termination was inadvertent or the result of maliciousness.

In a case where you did not sustain much financial harm and the employer’s conduct, while unlawful, was neither deliberate nor spiteful, your recovery may be limited to the wages you would have earned had you not been fired. Punitive damages are not likely to be available in such circumstances, either.

Conversely, you may be entitled to higher-value damages if you are a member of a protected class of people and if your employer intentionally singled you out in their discrimination. That is especially true if the incident tarnishes your professional reputation and you cannot find comparable work as easily after that.

Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Termination Cases

When you have been wrongfully terminated, you have no time to waste if you intend to pursue a legal claim for damages. There are many deadlines that can make or break your case—and, accordingly, your recovery.

For example, many discrimination cases must first be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 180 days from the date the discrimination took place. Failing to adhere to these deadlines could result in the EEOC dismissing your case before you are ever given the right to sue the employer in court. You may have also heard of the term “statute of limitations.” Statutes of limitations are deadlines that govern the maximum amount of time you have to bring a lawsuit from the date of an alleged offense. If that date passes, you may lose your right to sue on those claims, and your lawsuit could be immediately and entirely dismissed.

Different claims have different statutes of limitations, so it is important to speak with an attorney immediately after your termination to ensure no time is wasted. It will also be very helpful for you and your attorney if you create a timeline of everything that happened, including dates, names, and job titles of the other employees involved. It is best to do this when the information is fresh in your mind. As time goes on—and the statute of limitations approaches—you may forget the details of what occurred, and there may not be sufficient time to find the answers elsewhere.

Lawyer and client reviewing wrongful termination case paperwork

Navigating the Legal Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

Obtaining compensation for a wrongful termination requires you to work through the civil legal system to bring a claim against your employer for damages. This process can be intimidating for non-lawyers. Fortunately, an employment law attorney can make the process easier for you and handle most of the steps involved in presenting your claim without requiring your active involvement.

Initiating a Wrongful Termination Claim

You might want to simply settle a wrongful termination lawsuit with your employer outside of court. However, obtaining damages from the employer does not truly begin until a claim for wrongful termination is filed with the appropriate court or government agency, and even then, filing a claim is not as simple as just alleging that you were wrongfully terminated.

Your claim must also provide some factual support to show that there is reason to believe you were discriminated against and, thus, the subject of an unlawful termination. Once your claim is properly filed, various scheduling and court hearings will occur as your case proceeds toward trial. There may be opportunities to settle if you wish, but certain procedures must first be followed.

The Importance of Legal Representation

You might be thinking about suing your employer without hiring an attorney. Unfortunately, the reality is that wrongful termination cases are not often won without an attorney’s help.

You could indeed represent yourself in a wrongful termination case, and though you may feel that you can best explain what happened when you were fired, being able to prove discriminatory or illegal intent is not as easy as it seems.

Because the employer can always present evidence that your termination was handled lawfully, supporting your claim with as much evidence as possible is key to your success, and an attorney can gather documentation and witnesses to support your claim and rebut anticipated defenses from your employer.

Having an employment law attorney by your side can also help to ease the anxieties you may be feeling about your case, as their handling of prior wrongful termination cases can help them do the following:

  • Gather evidence and interview witnesses about your termination;
  • Prepare and file your claim within the applicable deadlines;
  • Attempt to negotiate a settlement that is in your best interests;
  • Advise whether you should accept a settlement or proceed to trial; and/or
  • Present your case and supporting evidence to a judge or jury if a settlement cannot be reached.

In short, having a qualified and competent attorney helping you with your case can mean the difference between a successful claim that causes minimal stress and exhausting yourself trying to win your case alone.

When to Seek Legal Assistance

With so much on the line and such a small window of time in which to take action, it is to your benefit to retain an employment law attorney as soon as you can following your termination. They will help you understand how much you can sue for in a wrongful termination case.

Wenzel Fenton Cabassa P.A. dedicates its practice to representing employees who have been wrongfully terminated from their jobs. Our decades of experience handling complex Florida wrongful termination lawsuits means we can investigate the cause of your termination, and you uncover evidence that you were fired for an illegal reason. Contact a Florida wrongful termination lawyer at our firm today.

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