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Wrongful termination claim alleges city broke California law

California workers may be dismissed without reason under at-will employment laws. However, a lack of explanations cannot disguise a hidden agenda. An employer may not discriminate against workers in protected classes or retaliate against employees who file complaints about workplace policy violations or misconduct.

Colton city officials are disputing charges a former employee was terminated unfairly. The ex-city manager filed an employment claim stating he was fired to silence an internal investigation into possible wrongdoing among public officials. The complaint says the way the manager was fired violated open meeting laws.

The former Colton manager said he and the public were kept in the dark about reasons for the dismissal. The lawsuit alleged officials approved the manager’s forced administrative leave during a closed-door meeting. The employee received no letter from the city outlining charges against him.

City officials countered with the claim the manager was fired without cause, under conditions that met work contract terms and legal specifications. The former manager said the city violated the state Brown Act, which would have allowed the employee to dispute reasons for termination in an open session. The lawsuit claims the dismissal was kept quiet because some city council members, targeted in the manager’s probe of misconduct, feared the investigation would become public knowledge.

The manager stated he was compelled to hire workers and exceed contractual spending limits, without approval, to advance the internal investigation. Some officials under investigation would have had the power to veto the extra spending and shut down the probe. The success of the lawsuit could force Colton officials to re-fire the manager, pay back wages and allow the public to hear the former employee’s side of the story.

Courts consider employment contracts, when determining whether an employer acted improperly while terminating a worker. Employment attorneys review contract terms to help employees understand how they affect a wrongful dismissal claim.

Source: San Bernardino Sun, “Fired Colton city manager sues alleging Brown Act violations” Leslie Parrilla, Oct. 10, 2014

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