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Even a legitimate retaliation case can be lost on a technicality

The former aide to a West Hollywood, California, councilman earned a bittersweet acknowledgment in court recently — even though she lost, her lawsuit was justified.

The former aide, who served as one councilman’s deputy, had been called as a witness for the plaintiff in a harassment case against another councilman. That plaintiff, a deputy for the other councilman, also accused a third councilman’s deputy of other various misdeeds in the workplace.

The probe into the allegations revealed what one of the attorney’s involved called a “dysfunctional” mess that kept deputies from communicating with each other and cost the city as much as $600,000 each year.

Ultimately, both deputies were let go from their positions during a period that the city characterized as a restructuring of the failed system. Two other deputies to other city councilmen were also fired at the same time.

While the deputy that started the probe chose to settle his case out of court for an undisclosed sum, the second deputy chose to take her case to trial. She alleged that her firing was the result of retaliation and that she was the victim of a wrongful discharge.

Ultimately, the jury agreed.

Unfortunately, the jury also felt that she would have lost her job anyhow, along with the three other deputies whose positions were eliminated once the generally flawed system and waste of public resources were exposed.

This is a problem that plaintiffs in these kinds of cases can face when their job is seemingly eliminated during a reshuffling of duties and changes in how an office operates. There’s often a fine line between wrongful termination due to retaliation and a legitimate restructuring of a system that is found to be inefficient and unreasonably costly.

The burden is always on the plaintiff to prove that the job would not have been eliminated except for the retaliation — however, that doesn’t make cases impossible to prove, despite the way this particular case turned out.

Proving a case like this is often possible through careful record keeping and an examination of what happened after the employee was gone. A case is more likely to be successful if there is still someone performing the exact same job duties that the fired employee was tasked with doing — just under a different title.

An attorney can provide you with more information on wrongful termination.

Source: West Hollywood Patch, “West Hollywood Wins Wrongful Termination Suit,” Patch Socal, May 19, 2017