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Detroit Employment Law Blog

Example of a successful whistleblower retaliation suit

If you witness wrongful or unlawful activity at your workplace, you have every right to report that activity to your superior — or to the authorities — without fear of negative employment consequences. If your employer decides to retaliate against you for reporting such information, i.e., for being a whistleblower, you might be able to pursue justice and financial restitution by filing a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit in federal court.

One recent example of a successful whistleblower retaliation lawsuit happened in 2015. It relates to a New York hedge fund called Paradigm Capital Management. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against Paradigm claiming that it retaliated against an employee. According to the suit, their employee reported to the SEC that unlawful misconduct was happening at Paradigm. The SEC lawsuit was successful, and this employee received 30 percent of the amount collected by the SEC, which totaled $600,000.

How can I tell if my termination was a breach of contract?

Wrongful termination can happen in numerous different ways. For example, Michigan employees might be wrongfully terminated as a result of racial discrimination or as a result of retaliation for making a complaint about sexual harassment. In other cases, an employee could be wrongfully terminated in a way that violates his or her employment contract.

An employment contract is either a written document signed at the beginning of employment, or an "implied contract" that was based on what was said to the employee, what is written in the employee manual or something else. Terminated employees can evaluate whether they were wrongfully terminated by reviewing the following questions:

  • Did you have a working contract? Did your termination fall under the permissible reasons for losing your job? Did your employer follow the written termination procedure?
  • Did you have an employee handbook? Did your termination fall under the potential reasons for disciplinary measures and termination under the handbook?
  • Did your manager or employer make any unwritten promises to you? Perhaps he or she told you that you had tenure or a guarantee of employment.
  • Did your employer or manager promise that you would only lose your job under certain conditions?

What should be included in an employment contract?

Your employment contract governs the terms of the employee-employer relationship. The employment contract should, therefore, cover a wide variety of areas, from the benefits the employee can expect to receive to the terms and conditions by which a termination of employment may occur.

For a more thorough review of the most necessary points to include in an employment contract, take a look at the following list:

  • The term or period of employment: How long will the contract last? Will it be indefinite, or does it have a specific period of years that it will endure before it needs to be renegotiated?
  • The responsibilities assumed by the employee: This largely refers to work duties and work expectations
  • The types of health, life insurance and disability insurance benefits the employee can expect to receive
  • Policies that govern sick days and vacation time
  • Conditions under which a termination of the employee will occur
  • Noncompetition clauses that limit the ability to the employee to compete against the employer after terminating employment
  • Nondisclosure agreements that pertain to client lists and company secrets
  • Ownership agreements that pertain to the materials that the employee produced. Usually, these clarify that such materials belong to the company
  • Directions for how disputes must be resolved -- usually through mediation or arbitration

Federal laws protect whistleblowers in a Michigan workplace

Your bosses always say they have an open-door policy. Come in and talk about anything that concerns you at any time, they say.

So, when you discover that your department is using substandard parts to make your company's best-selling product, you tell the boss. Soon after, you find that open door slammed in your face.

Do you have an invisible disability?

An invisible disability is a type of disability that isn't readily apparent to the people around you. Someone who is in a wheelchair or needs to use a cane to walk would have a visible disability. Meanwhile, someone who is suffering from chronic back pain, a migraine, depression or ADD might have an "invisible disability" because no one can see it.

Just because a disability is not readily visible, however, does not mean that the disability is any less debilitating. Individuals with invisible disabilities could be suffering from pain, dizziness, fatigue and cognitive impairments that are so severe they can't perform their job duties. Some individuals with invisible disabilities could also find themselves facing hostility by those around them.

Company agrees to settle disability discrimination case

A company that manufactures home furnishings has agreed to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit.

The company failed to provide a disabled employee with reasonable accommodation and then fired the employee because of his disability, according to the lawsuit.

Sexual orientation discrimination at work in Michigan

In the not too distant past, if you were of a different sexual persuasion, you probably kept a tight lid on it – only revealing this to your closest confidants. This secrecy had a good reason, not only were people of different sexual orientations commonly discriminated against socially, but they might even lose their jobs or have trouble finding jobs. These days, the social climate is quite different, and those who identify as homosexuals can more comfortably be open about it. Nevertheless, state and federal laws have yet to catch up with this social trend of acceptance.

At this time, Federal law does not provide any special protections to homosexual workers. If an employer chooses to fire someone for the discriminatory reason that he or she is homosexual, the employer might not get in trouble for it. Also, even though some states have made independent laws that protect homosexual workers, the state of Michigan has no such laws on the books. In some states and counties in Michigan, however, homosexual workers might be protected from discrimination.

You might be able to break your non-competition agreement

Thomas Jefferson once said, "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so." While this is a risky position to take in the 21st century, because it could land you in jail, it might apply to non-competition agreements in certain circumstances. If you signed such an agreement as a part of your previous job, and you want to continue working in the same industry, you might want to review your non-competition agreement carefully to determine if you can get into legal trouble if you break it.

Most non-competition agreements go into effect after the employee and employer have ended their working relationship. The agreement, for example, might require an employee to refrain from working in the same industry for a competing company within a specific area for a specific length of time. However, not all of these agreements are fair, and courts will frown upon one that renders someone unable to work in his or her field of expertise.

A brief survey for victims of workplace discrimination

When you've been wronged by discrimination at your workplace, you'll know it. Most victims of workplace discrimination suspect that they lost their jobs, didn't get hired or got passed up for a promotion for unfair reasons related to their race, gender or for some other protected reason.

If you suspect you were wronged by workplace discrimination, you might want to ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to any of the following your situation warrants a deeper investigation:

  • Do you have evidence that your employer terminated you due to a discriminatory reason? This could be written or verbal evidence that you took notes on.
  • Do you have circumstantial evidence related to the discriminatory reason? Perhaps, for example, you lost your job as soon as your employer discovered your ethnicity, religion or age.
  • Does your employer treat employees of a similar status differently because of the race, gender, age or another protected characteristic? Perhaps the employer lets white employees arrive to work late without any repercussions, but black employees get a warning and a write-up.
  • Has your employer exhibited behaviors, make comments or show decision-making patterns that indicate an unlawful bias?
  • Are there any witnesses to the discriminatory behaviors, decisions, communications and actions of your employer?
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