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Police department wrongful termination suits end in settlement

A Los Angeles company has a lot of flexibility during the employee firing process. California's at-will employment law states an employer does not require a reason to terminate a worker any more than an employee needs an explanation to quit a job. However, employment laws also protect workers from being fired unjustly.

A $500,000 settlement was reached recently, during the first of two unfair discharge lawsuits filed by a married couple against the City of Newport Beach. The plaintiffs once worked for the Newport Beach Police Department. The wife was a dispatcher and the husband was a sergeant before his demotion to patrol officer.

The settlement was $25,000 less than three other ex-officers received last year, after filing legal claims alleging the department engaged in retaliatory firing. The latest settlement came at a time when the city remained embroiled in a suit filed by a former officer, claiming he was wrongfully fired for reporting police commander misconduct.

In the most recent legal action, the city's liability insurers agreed to settle with the married former employees, rather than wait for the wife's trial to end or the husband's trial, set for March, to begin. The wife told a court she was fired because her husband testified in an unrelated wrongful discharge case in 2009, resulting in a $700,000 jury award.

The former sergeant claimed he was demoted, investigated and subsequently fired by the department following that trial. After the agreement, city officials continued to assert the employees were let go for legitimate reasons. Settlements don't require defendants to admit fault.

Employers may not terminate workers as a form of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Wrongful termination can include companies that fire employees for filing complaints or backing employment claims filed by co-workers. Attorneys provide answers about job protection laws for California workers who feel employers have mistreated them or fired them unfairly.

Source: Orange County Register, "Former Newport Beach Police employees settle wrongful termination lawsuits" Kelly Puente, Jan. 27, 2015

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