Although many employment contracts in California are presumed to be at-will, meaning that an employer does have a legal right to fire an employee at any time, employers cannot terminate employees under illegal circumstances.
For example, last week on our San Diego employment law blog we mentioned two different wrongful termination lawsuits involving employees who claim that they were illegally fired after raising concerns about race discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers cannot fire employees under these circumstances. However, an employer's violation of labor and employment laws is not always obvious.
In some cases, an employer's violation of labor laws may be very subtle when terminating an employee. A recent lawsuit filed by a former employee for Magic Johnson shows just how subtle a violation can be in the workplace.
A flight attendant for Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. claims that she was fired because she was asked to get a very specific sandwich for the former NBA star, and as a result she was seven minutes late for a flight. After the incident, the woman was terminated.
If the woman was fired simply because she was a few minutes late, then Johnson did nothing illegal by firing the employee. However, the woman claims that age discrimination was a factor. If she can prove that she was fired because of her age, Johnson could be held liable for violating workplace discrimination laws.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in California, the flight attendant was often asked to accommodate the former NBA star's unique pre-flight requests. But after taking some time off to recover from a medical condition, the woman returned to work on Johnson's private jet and began to be treated differently when catering to his requests. She claims that while she was on medical leave, a younger flight attendant was hired to fill in for the older attendant. When the woman was fired last month, the younger flight attendant was hired in her place.
The former flight attendant also claims that Johnson violated other labor laws during the woman's course of employment. She claims that she was denied rest breaks and overtime pay. Since being fired, the woman says that she has been unable to find another flight attendant job.
Source: Courthouse News Service, "Magic Johnson's Company Sued by Ex-Flight Attendant," Annie Youderian, Oct. 23, 2012