By Jan M. West
Our labor and employment group fields many calls each week from potential clients who want to know whether or not they have a potential employment claim against their employer or former employer. The first question I ask each potential client is whether or not their employment has been terminated or other whether other adverse action has been taken against them, such as a demotion. If an employee has not been subject to adverse employment action, there generally is no basis for a claim.
The second question I ask the potential client, if they have been subjected to an adverse action such as termination, is whether they believe they have been a victim of discrimination. Unless an employee has entered into an employment contract for a specific term, Kentucky is an “at-will” employment state. This means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason unless the termination is due to discrimination against a person who is in a “protected class” in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act or the Federal Civil Rights Act. It is a violation of the Kentucky and Federal Civil Rights Acts to terminate an employee based on gender, race, religion, or disability. It is also a violation of the statute if an employer terminates an employee who is over 40 and replaces that employee with someone who is substantially younger. In addition, it is a violation of the statute to terminate an employee in retaliation for the employee reporting discrimination in the workplace. Finally, an employee may have a potential claim under other Kentucky or federal statutes if he or she is terminated in retaliation for seeking workers’ compensation benefits or reporting illegal activities in the workplace.
If there is a potential discriminatory reason for termination, I ask additional questions of the employee in an attempt to determine whether the termination was based on discrimination (which may be actionable) or was based on poor work performance or personal animosity between the employee and his or her superiors (which is not actionable). It is also important to consider the potential damages an employee may be entitled to if he or she has a valid employment claim. The Kentucky Civil Rights Act allows an employee who prevails on an employment claim to recover lost wages, damages for humiliation and emotional distress, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
If you believe you have been subjected to illegal discrimination or wrongful termination from employment, the Goldberg Simpson labor and employment law group stands ready to help you through what can often be a difficult time in your life.