Employment Law Practice
We have been practicing employment law for many years, and we have experience with all types of cases involving employment discrimination, unlawful harassment, wrongful termination, False Claims Act, and wage and hour violations.
Under state and federal law, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of sex, race, national origin, age, religion or disability. In some places, including Washington State, it is also unlawful to discriminate because of sexual orientation. “Discrimination” includes any adverse action such as failure to hire or promote, discipline, demotion and termination. (For harassment, see below.) If you have experienced any of these adverse actions and you think the reason for it was your race, sex, etc., then you may have a legal claim. A successful claimant is entitled to recover his or her lost wages and compensation for any non-economic damage such as humiliation and other actual distress caused by the discrimination. Punitive damages generally are not available in Washington.
To make a claim, you can file a charge against your employer or former employer with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar state agency such as the Washington Human Rights Commission. Under federal law, it is mandatory to file such a charge before you can pursue a discrimination claim in court. However, under many state laws including Washington’s, it is not mandatory, and you can take your claim directly to court without filing a charge with any government agency.
Discrimination claims can be complex and most people need an attorney to represent them. Attorneys will typically take such cases on a contingent fee basis, meaning that you do not have to pay for the attorney’s time unless you recover money on your claim. In order to assist us in considering your claim, you should give as much detail as possible.
In the last 25 to 30 years the courts have come to recognize that “harassment” in the workplace can constitute unlawful discrimination if it is sufficiently severe. Not all types of workplace harassment are unlawful. Like discrimination, it is only unlawful harassment if it is based on your race, sex, national origin, age, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Also, it must be either “severe” or “pervasive” in order to be sufficiently serious to constitute unlawful discrimination. These cases can be complex legal challenges, and we have handled many such cases successfully.
In most jurisdictions, the courts recognize what is called “wrongful termination.” This claim is different than termination due to unlawful discrimination, as discussed above. A wrongful termination claim is based on the concept that there are certain types of activities that employees should be encouraged to engage in, and should be protected from punishment. For example, serving as a juror, reporting fraud on the government, or protesting something that threatens public safety. These activities are seen as advancing important public policies, and ought to be encouraged. An employer who terminates an employee for engaging in this type of activity may be liable for “wrongful termination” in violation of public policy.
If you are terminated for reporting or resisting fraud on the federal government, you may also have a claim under the federal False Claims Act.
False Claims Act
There is a federal law called the “False Claims Act” that protects and rewards employees who report or oppose fraud on the federal government by their employers. For example, a pharmaceutical representative who has reported that her employer is unlawfully promoting “off-label” use of its drugs to obtain increased payments from the federal Medicare program cannot be fired or discriminated against in her job, and may receive a reward if the government finds fraud has occurred. First, the employee anonymously reports the fraud to the government. Then, either the government or the employee or both may sue the employer to recover the money fraudulently gained. If fraud is established and money is recovered for the government, the employee who reported it is entitled to a portion of that money as a reward. We have successfully represented employees in False Claims Act cases and have an established relationship with United States Attorneys who prosecute such claims for the government.
Wage and Hour Violations
State and federal laws provide powerful protections for employee wages. They guarantee a minimum wage per hour, time-and-a-half for overtime, regular paid rest breaks, daily meal breaks, and prompt payment of all of wages earned by an employee. We have represented individuals and groups in recovering unpaid or underpaid wages, along with penalties and interest.