Discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination

Q: I received a negative performance review that I think is unfair. Do I have a case?

You may have a retaliation case under federal employment discrimination law if you can show that the review was not deserved and in response to complaints you made about what you believed was discrimination or harassment. But even then, pursuing such a case may not make sense because the compensation you could obtain is limited. If that performance review is used to deny you a pay raise or promotion, or justify a termination, you may have a case if you can show that the review was motivated by a "protected characteristic" (e.g., race, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability) or complaints about discrimination or harassment.

Q: I think a co-worker is harassing me. Should I pursue a case?

The legal standard for harassment is different than the lay understanding of that word. The law requires either "severe" or "pervasive" conduct by the harasser, and that the harassment is motivated by a protected characteristic (e.g., gender). One inappropriate sexual statement does not meet the standard; a single physical assault may. If the harasser is a co-worker, as opposed to a supervisor, the law also requires that the employer knew about the harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate action in order for the employer to be held accountable.

Q: I was terminated and not even give a reason for it. Is that legal?

An employer is not required to give a reason for a termination. In fact, an employer can terminate an employee (unless she has a union with a collective bargaining agreement) for any reason or no reason at all, just not an illegal reason. There are a number of laws protecting employees, so an employer may be held accountable even if it does not give a reason for the termination.

Q: I was fired from my job. Can I get my job back by filing a case?

There are laws that provide for reinstatement if a jury finds in favor of you. Nevertheless, most courts are reluctant to award reinstatement. Instead you will most likely receive additional compensation equivalent to what you would have earned if reinstated for a certain period of time.

Q: I complained about unlawful activity, other than discrimination or harassment, in my workplace to my supervisor, and then I was fired. Do I have a case?

It depends on whom you work for, when you made your complaint, and the nature of the complaint. If you work for a public (governmental) employer, you may have a case. If you work in the private sector (non-governmental), and you made your complaint in 2014 or later, you have a potential case; if the complaint was before 2014, and you did not also report the situation to a public or law enforcement agency, whether you have a case depends on what the complaint was about.