New York employers break the law when they fire employees based on protected characteristics, actions, or contractual obligations. Proving wrongful termination isn’t always easy, but you may use a mix of direct and circumstantial evidence to validate your claim. You can also work with an experienced civil rights attorney at our firm, who can further advocate for your legal rights.  

What is Considered ‘Wrongful Termination’ in New York?

In New York, employers can legally fire employees for reasons that seem unfair but are not illegal. There are three notable exceptions to an employer’s ability to “fire at-will”– discrimination, retaliation, and breach of contract.

Discrimination – It is illegal to fire you for your race, age, gender, religion, or disability. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are all federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The New York State Division of Human Rights may also investigate discrimination claims.

Retaliation – It is illegal to fire you for reporting illegal conduct, otherwise known as “whistleblowing.” You cannot be fired, demoted, or harassed for complaining about pay or excessive hours (which is protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act), labor law violations, sexual harassment, or fraud. 

Breach of Contract – It is illegal to fire you for reasons that breach your employment contract. Some contracts outline specific “just causes” for termination. Others may protect employees against other adverse employment actions. In New York, employees have up to six years to sue for breach of contract.

Types of Evidence to Prove Wrongful Termination in New York

You may use direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, or a mix of the two to prove wrongful termination.

Direct Evidence – The best type of evidence is the “smoking gun” or at least the “thick cloud of smoke” that proves discriminatory treatment. Admissions from decision-makers are the ideal proof of a discriminatory attitude. This is why it’s a good idea to seek legal representation. Lawyers have the power to summon documents, take formal depositions, and can interview other employees to gain access to these coveted forms of proof.  

Circumstantial Evidence – Plaintiffs must demonstrate their membership in a protected class, their qualifications for the position, and the adverse employment action. They must also explain how the surrounding circumstances gave rise to an inference of discrimination. The employer will be expected to articulate legitimate grounds for the adverse employment action. If the burden shifts back to the employee, the plaintiff will need further evidence– staff interviews, a history of similar adverse employment actions, etc. In civil court, a jury must believe your story is 51% or more “likely to be true” to award damages.   

Steps You Can Take to Strengthen A Wrongful Termination Case

If you feel your hours have been cut, you’ve been demoted, or you’ve been unfairly fired, you can:

  • Ask your employer to explain why you were fired. Take notes or record the conversation if possible. Request the reasons for the adverse employment action in writing.
  • Ask HR to see your personnel file. You may request copies of all documents, notes, and information included in your personnel file. Your employer does not have to agree, but it’s worth a try. A lawyer can subpoena these documents after filing a lawsuit.
  • Keep a journal. Write down dates, times, names, and detailed notes of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation you have experienced. Make note if there were witnesses or others involved. Include notes if other employees performed worse but did not suffer the same punishment to demonstrate double standards.
  • File a complaint with the EEOC. Save a copy of your application and keep all correspondence from the EEOC in one folder. The EEOC may provide you with a “right to sue” letter, which permits you to file a federal discrimination lawsuit and pursue a separate lawsuit in state court as well. Be sure to act within 90 days of receiving this letter, as the statute of limitations applies.
  • Search for a new job. Juries are more sympathetic when a terminated employee seeks employment elsewhere but cannot obtain it. Keep track of your job submissions, cover letters, interviews, and efforts. You may be entitled to lost wages and emotional distress.

How We Can Help

It’s always a good idea to seek representation from a New York civil rights lawyer. At Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb, and Green in New York City, we work on a contingency basis, so it costs you nothing upfront to pursue legal action against your employer or former employer. We will help you collect all the evidence you need to prove wrongful termination.

They may have access to copies of internal files, private emails, memos, and corporate executive testimony given under oath. If your employer sees that a legal defense will cost them, they may opt to settle with you outside the courtroom.

If a New York personal injury attorney from our teamcan prove the employment action was intentional or malicious, they could be hit with additional punitive damages that escalate into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Contact our office for a free consultation. 


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