Wrongful Discharge Claims
Also Serving Silver Spring, Glen Burnie, Columbia, and Frederick, as well as Howard and Anne Arundel counties
“At-will” employment does not mean that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason at all. There are numerous improper grounds for termination of both contract-based and at-will employees that can give rise to wrongful discharge claims under Maryland law.
Maryland is an “at will” employment state, which means that in the absence of a formal written employment agreement, employers can generally terminate their employees for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are numerous exceptions, and both state and federal laws protect Maryland employees against what is commonly referred to as “wrongful termination” or “wrongful discharge.”
The remedies for wrongful discharge in Maryland range from reinstatement of employment to payment of financial compensation, with many different options and permutations in between. With more than 18 years’ experience, employment law attorney Joyce E. Smithey has represented employers and employees in wrongful discharge disputes statewide. If you believe that you were terminated from your employment, if you are a Maryland employer facing a wrongful discharge claim, or if you are an employer seeking to mitigate your risk through policy implementation and claim prevention strategies, Ms. Smithey has the legal knowledge and practical, real-life insights to meet your needs.
Forms of Wrongful Discharge in Maryland
Broadly speaking, wrongful discharge can be broken down into three categories: (i) termination in breach of an employment agreement, (ii) termination in violation of statutory law (Maryland or federal), and (iii) termination in violation of public policy.
Termination in Breach of an Employment Agreement
If you are employed in Maryland pursuant to a written employment contract, the terms of your contract may prohibit termination except in certain, limited circumstances. Note, however, that employment contracts are the exception to the rule – most employees in Maryland are “at-will” employees. If your employer breached the terms of your contract by terminating you prematurely or without cause, Ms. Smithey can help you fight to enforce the terms of your agreement.
Termination in Violation of Statutory Law
For both contract-based and at-will employees, there are Maryland and federal laws that prohibit termination for improper grounds. Perhaps the most well-known of these laws is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits discrimination in employment), though there are numerous other laws that protect employees against wrongful termination as well. Termination based upon age, race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and membership in various other protected classes can entitle employees to pursue administrative or civil remedies against their employers.
Termination in Violation of Public Policy
Under a Maryland court case decided in 1981, employees can also file claims for wrongful discharge when they are terminated in violation of a “clear mandate of public policy.” These “clear mandates” are not actually enumerated or specifically defined; however, examples of grounds for termination that may violate public policy in Maryland include:
- Termination for discriminatory purposes, even if the employer is not subject to state or federal anti-discrimination laws (for example, due to having too few employees)
- Termination for refusing to participate in improper or illegal activity
- Termination for objecting to improper or illegal employment practices (such as wage discrimination or sexual harassment)
- Termination for reporting improper or illegal conduct to regulatory or law enforcement authorities
- Termination for filing a workers’ compensation claim with the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission
- Termination for participating in lawful union activity
In order to establish a claim for wrongful discharge, it is critical that the employee be able to demonstrate a relationship between the employee’s conduct or class and the employer’s decision to terminate. If the timing of the termination is truly coincidental, or if the employer has legitimate grounds for termination unrelated to the employee’s protected conduct or class, the fact that the employee engaged in protected conduct or was a member of a protected class, standing alone, is not enough to establish a violation of public policy.
Negotiating a Severance Following Wrongful Discharge
As an employee subjected to a wrongful discharge, one option that you may have instead of pursuing legal remedies in an administrative or civil proceeding is to negotiate a severance agreement with your employer. Employers will often prefer to settle employees’ wrongful discharge claims rather than having them aired out in a public forum (and, of course, keeping your dispute with your employer private may be beneficial for you as well). The decision to settle in lieu of taking legal action is not one to be taken lightly; but, under the right circumstances, negotiating a severance agreement may be your best option.
Contact Maryland Employment Lawyer Joyce E. Smithey for a Confidential Consultation
If you would like more information about pursuing or defending against a wrongful discharge claim in Maryland, contact attorney Joyce E. Smithey for a confidential consultation. To schedule an appointment, call (410) 919-2990 or inquire online today.