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California Playboy employee claims wrongful termination

Like most states, California follows "at-will" employment rules for non-contractual employment relationships. What this means is, absent a contract that sets rules to the contrary, either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, and for nearly any reason. There does not need to be cause to terminate.

There are some exceptions to this rule. California employers may not terminate employees for discriminatory reasons or for refusing to participate in illegal activities. Employees who are fired under these circumstances may be able to seek recourse in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

This issue was highlighted recently in a lawsuit brought by a former controller and senior vice president of Playboy Enterprises. She claims she was wrongfully fired after refusing to participate in an embezzlement scheme that permeated the highest levels of management.

The woman, who had worked at Playboy for 24 years, was fired from her job on December 31, 2011. She says she was fired after she twice refused to pay executive bonuses that had not been approved by the company's board of directors. She claims that Playboy Enterprise's CFO and CEO were attempting to use the bonuses as a way to steal money from the company.

The woman, who is 56 years old, claims that her age also played a role in the firing. She says the company has a policy of firing employees who have worked there for more than 10 years.

California whistleblower protection

After she was fired, the woman brought a wrongful termination lawsuit. She is seeking punitive damages, as well as either front pay or reinstatement. In addition, she filed a whistleblower claim with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Both California and federal law are set up to protect employees who make whistleblower claims. Under those laws, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report illegal conduct, so long as those reports are made in good faith.

Retaliation does not just include firing. Employers are prohibited from taking any adverse action against a whistleblower employee, including, but not limited to:

  • Termination of employment
  • Demotion
  • Involuntary transfer
  • Denial of promotion
  • Poor performance evaluations
  • Any disciplinary action
  • Any threats of adverse action

Employees who have been wrongfully retaliated against for reporting illegal conduct have a right to pursue whistleblower and wrongful termination lawsuits against their employers. If you have been treated unfairly by your employer, talk to a Los Angeles employment law attorney who can review your case and advise you of your options.

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