Can An Employee Sue For Wrongful Discharge Even Though The Employee Did Not Have An Employment Contract?

by Joseph C. Maya on Feb. 23, 2024


Summary: Can An Employee Sue For Wrongful Discharge Even Though The Employee Did Not Have An Employment Contract?

In Connecticut, employees who do not have a contract spelling out the duration of their employment are considered “at-will” employees.  In an at-will employment relationship, either party (the employer or the employee) may terminate the employment whenever they choose, for any reason or no reason at all.  Of course, both federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination, including termination, based on gender, race, age, religion, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation, among other things.

However, in limited circumstances, an at-will employee may be able to sue his or her employer for wrongful discharge even without a case of discrimination if the discharge is against public policy, or if the employee can prove that there was an implied employment contract.

The Public Policy Exception

Under the public policy exception, an employee can bring an action for wrongful termination if his or her discharge is contrary to a clear public policy, and the court (rather than a jury) must determine at the outset whether an important public policy is at issue in the case.  Such public policy may be found in constitutional provisions, statutes or in judicially conceived notions.  These would include prohibitions against firing an employee for filing a claim for unemployment benefits, filing a wage enforcement claim, and exercising federal or state constitutional rights, such as religious or free speech rights.

Although courts construe this exception narrowly, some have, for example, held that an employee may maintain an action for wrongful discharge where the plaintiff alleged that he was fired for refusing to participate in a scheme to defraud the government in violation of a federal statute, or was fired for reporting that a supervisor had sold alcohol to a minor in violation of a state statue.

Wrongful Termination

Connecticut courts also recognize a cause of action for wrongful termination based on an implied employment contract.  To prevail on such a claim, the employee must prove that the employer agreed, through words or actions, not to terminate the employee without just cause.  This exception, too, is narrowly construed.  Such claims have arisen where an employee manual was distributed to the now discharged employee that contained language concerning job security (e.g., that the employee could not be discharged without just cause) that he or she relied upon in deciding to remain with his employer.

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry, and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

Our firm in Westport, Connecticut serves clients with legal assistance all over the state, including the towns of: Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Bethel, Branford, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Cheshire, Danbury, Darien, Derby, East Haven, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Meriden, Middlebury, Milford, Monroe, Naugatuck, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Haven, Newton, North Branford, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Oxford, Prospect, Redding, Ridgefield, Seymour, Shelton, Sherman, Southbury, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Wallingford, Waterbury, West Haven, Weston, Westport, Wilton, and Woodbridge. In addition to assisting clients in Connecticut, our firm handles education law and employment law matters in New York as well. 

If you have any questions about employment law or education law in Connecticut, or would like to speak to an attorney about a legal matter, please contact Joseph C. Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a free initial consultation today.

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