Man fired after reporting drugs wins wrongful termination suit

Most New Jersey residents understand that illegal drug use in the workplace is against the law. So what happens when an employee witnesses another employee using drugs at work? Most would probably inform their supervisor or report about the incident. One Hollywood visual effects specialist did just that and was fired. However, the man filed a wrongful termination lawsuit and won.

In 2009, the man saw the employee snorting cocaine in a restroom during work hours. When he told his supervisors, he said they downplayed the situation. The man became frustrated and threatened to videotape the other employee using drugs in the bathroom. The next day, he was fired for that threat.

The man filed a lawsuit and a Los Angeles jury agreed that the company maliciously fired the man. They awarded him $450,000 in damages. Another trial was scheduled to determine punitive damages, but an agreement has already been reached. The cocaine-using employee has since been fired as well.

Most workers are considered at-will employees, meaning that either party can end employment at any time. However, at-will employment does not give a company the right to fire an employee due to discrimination or retaliation.

State and federal laws generally prohibit employment discrimination when it is based on race, religion, gender and several other listed factors. The law also prohibits employers from terminating an employee because the employee exercised a right, such as reporting the company to the authorities for unsafe working conditions or engaging in illegal activity. Similarly, the law prohibits employers from firing an employee because he or she refused to do something illegal.

When an employee has been fired under these conditions, the employee can file a wrongful termination claim. Even in an at-will situation, employees have rights.

Source: NBC Southern California, " Cocaine Tattler Wins Wrongful Termination Case," Sharon Bernstein, Oct. 24, 2012


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