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Wrongful
Termination

Justice starts today with a confidential lawyer consultation.

Wrongful termination cases are an exception to the "at-will" employment doctrine. Most Maryland employees are "at-will" employees—meaning that your employer generally can terminate your employment relationship (i.e., fire you) at any time, and for any reason, even if that reason is arbitrary or unfair.

In practice, the "at-will" principle is limited by federal, state, and local statutes. For example, Maryland employers can't fire someone because of their race (violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), you can't fire someone because of their age (violating the The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967), and you can't fire someone because of their sex or gender (violating the Maryland Human Rights Act, also known as Title 20). These are statutory limitations on the "at-will" employment principle. However, these statutes only apply to some Maryland employees, and some Maryland employers (generally, large employers).

So what happens when you are fired because of your race, age, sex, etc., but for some reason, none of these statutes apply to you? With the assistance of a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer, you can pursue a common law tort claim of wrongful termination against your former employer. A wrongful termination claim is a "last resort" claim, which is basically telling a court, "I know there's technically no law against what my employer did, but it was still wrong (i.e., violates Maryland public policy)."

Wrongful termination claims are an important, but often misunderstood, facet of Maryland employment law. At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we represent workers with wrongful termination cases in every Maryland circuit court. Contact us today for a consultation with a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer.

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Justice for wrongful termination in Maryland starts today with a confidential lawyer consultation.

Wrongful Termination in Maryland

 

Like many states, Maryland follows the common law rule that "an employment contract of indefinite duration, that is, at-will, can be legally terminated at the pleasure of either party at any time." In other words, unless you've signed an employment contract with your employer (specifically, one that provides for a definite start and end date for your employment), you're an at-will employee. 

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer that at-will employment is the norm

Unless you've signed an employment contact (that sets out a definite start and end date for your employment), you're an at-will employee.

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer that an at-will employe can be fired at any time

An at-will employee can be fired—at any time, for any reason, or even no reason at all. 

In 1981, a landmark Maryland Court of Appeals case, Adler v. American Standard Corp., 291 Md. 31 (1981), placed an important guardrail on the at-will employment principle, and recognized the legal cause of action we known today in Maryland as wrongful termination.

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer that Adler is the main wrongful termination case in Maryland

In Adler v. American Standard Corp., 291 Md. 31 (1981), the court recognized that an at-will employee in Maryland could bring a tort claim for wrongful termination.

In 1981, a landmark Maryland Court of Appeals case, Adler v. American Standard Corp., 291 Md. 31 (1981), placed an important guardrail on the at-will employment principle, and recognized the legal cause of action we known today in Maryland as wrongful termination.

Importantly, you can only bring a wrongful termination claim when no other statutory remedy applies. At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we most often see wrongful termination lawsuits brought against small employers (i.e., less than 15 employees), because most state and federal employment laws don't apply to small employers.

In order to establish a claim for wrongful discharge, a Maryland employee (through their Maryland wrongful termination lawyer) must show by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) the employee was discharged; (2) the discharge violated a clear mandate of public policy; and (3) there was a nexus between the employee's conduct and the employer's decision to terminate the employee.

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer outlining the elements of a wrongful termination claim in Maryland

To prevail on a wrongful termination claim in Maryland, an employee must show by a preponderance of the evidence that:

  1. the employee was discharged;

  2. the discharge violated a clear mandate of public policy; and

  3. there was a nexus between the employee's conduct and the employer's decision to terminate the employee.

The first element, that the employee was discharged, is usually the easiest to prove—if you were fired, check that box.

The second element, the public policy exception, is a more substantial hurdle to clear. Maryland recognizes the tort of wrongful termination only for a termination that violates public policy. A wrongful termination action provides a remedy when an employee has been terminated in clear contravention of public policy and there is no statutory remedy available to address this wrong—in other words, you can only bring a wrongful termination claim if no employment statute applies to your specific situation.

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer that plaintiffs need a statutory basis for a wrongful termination case in Maryland

You can only bring a claim for wrongful termination if no other employment statute applies to your situation.

But what is a "public policy?" Maryland courts have adopted a narrow definition of public policy, and general only recognize a mandate of public policy when there's some clear action on behalf of the legislature. Here are two (relatively) recent examples of wrongful termination cases in Maryland where courts addressed this issue:

  • In Bleich v. Florence Crittenton Serv, 98 Md. App. 123 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1993), a teacher at a program for at-risk children alleged she had been fired because she sent a letter to the police alleging that the program's policies placed the children at risk of abuse. The teacher was able to bring a claim for wrongful discharge because Maryland law required educators to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

  • In Kessler v. Equity Management, Inc., 82 Md. App. 577 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1990), an apartment manager alleged a violation of public policy where she was terminated for refusing to comply with her employer's instructions to enter tenants' apartments and rummage through their personal effects to gather information that could be used in collecting overdue rent. In this case, the court found that public policy mandated the protection of the tenant's constitutional right to privacy.

The challenge with wrongful termination claims is that vague public policy interest, no matter how compelling, have been unsuccessful in the absence of a specific statutory or regulatory basis. In other words, a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer will generally look for a state or federal statute that explicitly states the public policy (e.g., "Title VII's prohibitions on sex discrimination may not apply to this case, but Title VII gives us a clear public policy against sex discrimination.").

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer that you need a clear public policy basis for a wrongful termination claim in Maryland

Vague notions of "fairness" or "justice" aren't enough to sustain a wrongful termination claim in Maryland—you need to be able to point to a written, clear public policy against the employer's conduct (e.g., sex, age, or race discrimination).

Wrongful termination claims in Maryland require a deep knowledge of both the wrongful termination case law, but also the various "public policies" that can form the basis of a successful claim. Contact us today for a confidential consultation with a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer.

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Justice for wrongful termination in Maryland starts today with a confidential lawyer consultation.

Suing for Wrongful Termination

 

Unlike many employment cases, you can immediately file a lawsuit in Maryland circuit court for a wrongful termination.

The statute of limitations for a wrongful termination claim in Maryland is three years.

graphic note by a Maryland wrongful termination lawyer that you need a clear public policy basis for a wrongful termination claim in Maryland

The statute of limitations (i.e., deadline to file) a wrongful termination claim in Maryland is three years.

As Maryland's body of wrongful termination laws evolves, there are still some "gray areas" when it comes to wrongful termination in Maryland. For example, it's still unclear whether a federal law (as opposed to a Maryland state or county law) can be the "public policy" needed to prevail on a wrongful termination claim. It's also unclear whether you actually need to be "terminated," or if you can bring a wrongful termination claim when you've been wrongfully demoted, reassigned, or otherwise treated poorly at work for doing the right thing.

At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we're proud to be among the Maryland employment law firms helping to develop this body of law, all through our relentless advocacy on behalf of our clients. If you've been wrongfully terminated, contact us today for a confidential consultation with a Maryland wrongful termination attorney.

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When you're ready to start fighting back against a wrongful termination in Marylandyou won't be fighting alone.

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Justice for wrongful termination in Maryland starts today with a confidential lawyer consultation.

Blog Posts

For more on wrongful termination in Maryland, check out our team's most recent blog post on this topic:

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When you're ready to start fighting back against a wrongful termination in Marylandyou won't be fighting alone.

Helpful Links

For additional resources on wrongful termination in Maryland, check out the following helpful links:

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