Wrongful Termination Attorney in Kansas City

What Constitutes Wrongful Termination in Missouri?

Missouri is an “at-will” employment state. That means the employment relationship only exists “at the will” of both parties and can be terminated by either the employer or employee for any reason or for no reason at all. Some people believe an employer must have “cause” before firing an employee, but most of the time that is not the case. The at-will employment law also allows either party to change the terms and conditions of employment – such as rates of pay, work schedules, or job positions – at any time for any reason.

Now, you might think the at-will employment law means that you don’t have any workplace rights at all. But, as with most laws, there are certain exceptions to the at-will employment law. Employers generally may not terminate an employee in a manner that violates the employee’s contractual rights or state or federal laws. When this happens, the employer’s actions can constitute a “wrongful termination” and the employee may be able to file a claim for wrongful termination to hold their former employer accountable for the harm the employer has caused.

Keep in mind, an employment termination is not “wrongful” simply because it is unfair or unjustified. Remember, the at-will employment law allows the employer or the employee to end the employment relationship for any reason – including unfair or unjustified reasons. That means that an employer can fire you because they don’t like the car your drive, where you went to school, your favorite sports team, or any number of other absurd reasons.

For the termination to be considered “wrongful” under the law, the employer’s reasons for firing you must be expressly prohibited by a specific law. And while the at-will employment rule gives broad protection to employers, there are many laws that provide specific “exceptions.”

These exceptions, however, can be hard to recognize and complicated to prove, particularly when the employer conceals its real reasons for firing you. As a result, it can be difficult to know whether you have been wrongfully terminated in Missouri. Below are some common exceptions to the at-will employment law to help you determine if you can sue for wrongful termination in Missouri.

While we hope the information here is helpful as you research your legal rights, please also know that it can be difficult to navigate the legal complexities of a wrongful termination case without the guidance of attorney. An experienced wrongful termination lawyer in Kansas City can help you determine if your employer’s actions violated the law. The Law Office of Kevin A. Jones regularly represents wrongfully terminated employees, and Kevin welcomes the opportunity to discuss your situation with you and see if there is anything he can do to help.

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After being fired, a girl packs her box of belongings
Worker being fired due to racism in the workplace

Wrongful Termination Because of Discrimination

One of the most common exceptions to the at-will employment rule is illegal discrimination. Employers are not allowed to fire workers for discriminatory reasons. Both state and federal anti-discrimination laws define discrimination as using a “protected characteristic” as a basis for an employment decision. Some examples of wrongful discharge due to discrimination include:

  • Race discrimination
  • Sex discrimination
  • Age discrimination
  • National origin discrimination
  • Disability discrimination
  • Religious discrimination
  • Pregnancy discrimination
  • Sexual orientation discrimination

Missouri’s anti-discrimination statutes apply to any employers who had six or more employees for twenty or more weeks in the last two calendar years. Most federal anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with at least 15 employees. One exception would be the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which requires the employer to have at least 20 employees.

One thing that is important to know about the anti-discrimination laws is that they prohibit the employer from using a protected characteristic – such as race, age, sex, disability, etc. – as any substantial factor in the firing decision. That is important because employers sometimes have multiple reasons for firing an employee. Some of those reasons may be legitimate, but if discrimination was just one of the motivating reasons the employer took the action that it did, the employer’s actions likely violated the law.

To illustrate how this might play out in the workplace, imagine a woman who works in a factory and is late to work one day because her child got sick. When she gets to work, her manager tells her that she fired because she was late (a legitimate reason) and also because “this is a man’s job anyway” (a discriminatory reason). Although the employer may have had a lawful reason to fire the woman based on attendance, his statement about her having a “man’s job” expresses a discriminatory animus that suggests the woman was also fired due to her gender. Thus, if the woman proves that one of the two reasons behind the firing was her gender, then the firing was illegal, and she will have a case for wrongful termination.

Most of the time, however, employers are smart enough not to make such outwardly discriminatory statements. But even if the employer conceals its reasons, it is still possible to prove one of the reasons was discriminatory. These days, most discrimination cases are proven by circumstantial evidence – that is, by evidence of the surrounding circumstances that suggest at least one reason for the employer’s decision was discrimination.

One example of circumstantial evidence is the different treatment of employees. So, in the example above, if the manager had not made the “man’s job” comment, the woman might still prove a circumstantial case of discrimination if she can show she was treated differently than men. Perhaps the manager fired her the first time she was late, while men were similarly late on numerous occasions before they were fired. This evidence of disparate treatment is a common type of circumstantial evidence a Missouri wrongful termination lawyer would look for to prove the woman’s case.

There are many forms of circumstantial evidence that can be used to prove a discriminatory wrongful termination. This is why it is important to have a trained and experienced wrongful termination attorney in Kansas City review your situation carefully. If you don’t know what to look for, you’re never going to find it. The Law Office of Kevin A. Jones has handled many wrongful termination cases involving discrimination. Kevin can review your situation and help you identify any “red flags” indicating a wrongful termination has occurred.

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Wrongful Termination Due to Retaliation

You might also have a wrongful termination case if you were fired in retaliation for asserting your legal rights. For example, the same laws that protect employees from discrimination also protect employees who report or oppose discrimination in the workplace. So if your employer fires you because you complained of discrimination, you might have a wrongful termination case due to retaliation.

We see this situation come up a lot when an employee believes he or she is being discriminated against or harassed at work and decides to report it to a manager or HR. The employee did the right thing by reporting the discrimination, which gave the employer the opportunity to also do the right thing and fix the problem. But sometimes, the employee’s complaint is not well-received, and the people involved start to retaliate against the employee. Sometimes an employee might be fired immediately after making a complaint of discrimination, but usually there is a pattern of more subtle retaliation that occurs before the employer fires the employee. The retaliation might take a variety of forms – increased workloads, unfair write-ups, reassigned work schedules, snide remarks, and hostile attitudes from co-workers or supervisors are just a few examples. 

When the employer ultimately fires the employee, the employer usually offers a reason that does not appear retaliatory on its face. This is common, and a Kansas City wrongful termination lawyer can help you prove that the employer’s reason is “pretext” – or a cover-up – for illegal retaliation.

Let’s consider another example of how this might play out in the workplace: A black man works on a construction crew with all white co-workers. His white co-workers constantly tease him with racial stereotypes, asking him if he brought “watermelon” and “chicken” for lunch today, or whether he knows who his father is. He tells them their jokes are not funny, but they do not get the picture. The situation continues to get worse until someone leaves a noose hanging in his truck from the rearview mirror. The black employee understandably becomes irate. He confronts his co-workers and a yelling match ensues. Threats and curse words are exchanged. The black employee complains to his foreman about the situation, and after talking to the other employees involved, the foreman fires the black employee for “threatening and disruptive” behavior.

The example above is based on a real case the Law Office of Kevin A. Jones handled. The behavior the black employee experienced was not just inappropriate – it had no place in any civilized society. The black employee was certainly disruptive when he was harassed with a symbol of racial violence, and undoubtedly threatened his co-workers during the confrontation. If he had not been provoked by racial harassment, his employer probably would have been within its rights to fire him.

But what the employer failed to consider was that the racial harassment by the white co-workers was equally, if not more, disruptive and threatening than the black employee’s reaction after discovering the noose. That is, the white co-workers were just as guilty as the black employee, if not more so, for engaging in disruptive and threatening behavior. But the employer did not fire any of the white employees. This evidence of disparate treatment can be used to not only prove discrimination, but also to prove that the employer’s reason for firing the black employee – threatening and disruptive behavior – was really just an excuse to fire the black employee for complaining about discrimination.

These are some other common ways an employer might retaliate wrongfully discharge an employee for retaliation in Missouri:

  • Wrongfully terminating an employee who complains about discrimination or harassment
  • Wrongfully terminating an employee who reports health and safety violations
  • Wrongfully terminating an employee who files a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Wrongfully terminating an employee who participates in a government agency investigation against the employer

Wrongful termination cases based on retaliation are generally proven through circumstantial evidence. Also, as with discrimination cases, the employee need only prove that one of the reasons for the employer’s decision was retaliation. So, if the employer had five reasons to terminate an employee, and one of them was retaliation, then the termination was wrongful. The law takes this position because it wants to protect employees who come forward about illegal conduct in the workplace, and because it is so easy for employers to fabricate one or more “legitimate” reasons to fire someone.

Retaliation cases usually are not cut and dry. It often requires careful examination of the circumstances, including the employee’s performance and disciplinary history, the employer’s policies and procedures, and the employer’s conduct in other similar circumstances. If you believe you were wrongfully terminated due to retaliation, you would be well-advised to talk to a wrongful termination lawyer in Kansas City. Like the Law Office of Kevin A. Jones, most do not charge any legal fees to review your situation. If you contact us, we will give you straight forward advice and tell you if you have a case or not. At the end of the day, we want you to at least understand your legal rights and remedies so you can make a good decision about whether to pursue your case. 

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Wrongful Termination After Whistleblowing

A “whistleblower” is someone who reports or exposes illegal activities within an organization (such as fraud, tax evasion, stealing, or criminal behavior). There are many state and federal laws that protect whistleblowers, depending on the type of conduct that is reported. Missouri, for example, has a “Whistleblower’s Protection Act” that protects employees who report “serious misconduct” by an employer. If the employer fires an employee for blowing the whistle on serious misconduct, the employee likely has a wrongful termination case, in which case the employee can recover lost wages, medical expenses, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

Missouri whistleblowers may also have even broader protections under other laws. For example, state and public employees are protected from retaliation for reporting violations of law, government mismanagement, waste of funds, breach of professional standards, and dangers to public health and safety.

While there are many laws that protect whistleblowers, they can be highly technical and complex. Whether you have a case or not can depend on what your job duties were, who you reported the misconduct to, how long ago you made your report, whether the employer knew about your report, and other circumstances.

If you believe you might have been fired for blowing the whistle on your employer’s illegal activities, feel free to give us a call and we will try to help you get to the bottom of it.

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Wrongful Termination by Breach of Contract

Another important exception to the at-will employment law is when the employee and the employer have entered into an employment contract. If you have an employment contract, your employer’s ability to terminate your employment may be restricted to certain specific circumstances. If your employer terminates your employment in violation of your contractual rights, you are entitled to all remedies provided by the contract and the law.

Employment contracts differ from employer-to-employer, and your rights will depend on the specific terms and provisions of your contract. A Kansas City wrongful termination lawyer can help you make sense of all the legalese. If in doubt, it’s probably best to have an attorney take a look.

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Practice Areas

Wrongful termination - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Wrongful Termination

An illegal termination can ruin your career and finances. Our Kansas City wrongful termination lawyer holds employers accountable for illegal firings.

Sexual Harassment - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Sexual Harassment

If you need a sexual harassment attorney in Kansas City, the Law Office of Kevin A. Jones will stand by your side and help you get the respect you deserve.

Gender discrimination - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Gender Discrimination

Men and women must be treated equally in the workplace. If you are being held to a different standard than the opposite sex, you should speak with a Kansas City gender discrimination attorney.

Racial discrimination - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Racial Discrimination

Race and skin color should be non-factors in any employment decisions. If your employer allows race discrimination in the workplace, a Kansas City discrimination lawyer can set things right.

Age Discrimination - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is against the law in Missouri. Don’t let false stereotypes and ageist beliefs cut your career short. Talk to a Kansas City employment discrimination lawyer.

Workplace retaliation - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Workplace Retaliation

Missouri employment laws prohibit retaliation for speaking up about discrimination and harassment. If you experienced this kind of behavior, speak to a Kansas City retaliation lawyer.

Whistleblower retaliation - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Whistleblower Retaliation

You should not be punished for reporting illegal behavior or activity. It is the right thing to do. If you were punished reporting wrongdoing, let a Kansas City whistleblower lawyer help.

Workers compensation retaliation - Kevin A. Jones Employment Law

Workers Compensation Retaliation

Injured workers shouldn’t lose their job because they reported a work injury. If you need someone to back you up, call a Kansas City worker’s compensation retaliation lawyer.

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Kevin offers a free, no-obligation consultation to any person facing a legal problem. During your call, Kevin will review your situation, answer your questions, and inform you of your legal rights.

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In his first decade of experience, Kevin has tried and argued more cases in court than most attorneys have in their entire careers.

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When you hire Kevin, you get Kevin. Not a paralegal, case manager, or a lawyer fresh out of law school. Kevin limits the number of cases he takes so he can give his clients the attention they deserve.

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Kevin A. Jones offers a free, no-obligation consultation to any person facing a legal problem. During your call, Kevin will review your situation, answer your questions, and inform you of your legal rights.

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Law Office of Kevin A. Jones
17 W Kansas St
Liberty, MO 64068

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