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Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association

Are You a Victim of Retaliatory Discharge?

In the state of Tennessee, employment is considered “at-will.” In general, this means that an employer may hire, fire, suspend or discipline any employee at any time with no warning and for any reason – good or bad – or for no reason at all.[1] At first this sounds unfair, but the reverse is also true – you can leave your job without warning any time and for any reason.

However, there are some exceptions to this policy. Naturally, an employer may not discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee’s race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, or disability. Likewise, your employer may not terminate your employment for filing numerous types of claims such as a discrimination claim based on race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, or disability, a workers’ compensation claim, or a claim under the Family Medical Leave Act.

If you were fired for having filed one of these claims, then you may have a case for retaliatory discharge. In order for you to prevail against your employer for retaliatory discharge, you must be able to prove:

  1. That you were actually employed.
  2. That you were discharged from employment.
  3. That you were discharged for attempting to exercise a statutory or constitutional right, or for any other reason that violates a clear public policy. [2]
  4. That such action was a substantial factor in the employer’s decision to discharge the employee.[3]

There are other exceptions to the “at-will” rule in Tennessee, as well. One such exception is the “Whistleblower” Law. This law is designed to protect employees when they discover that their company is guilty of wrongdoing. The employer may not take any action against an employee who advises the employer that the business is in violation of a law and the employee either discloses, threatens to disclose, or testifies about the violation of law, or the employee objects to or refuses to participate in work they know to be in violation of law.[4]

Employees may also be protected from retaliation under the False Claims Act and False Medicaid Clams Act. [5] These laws, along with similar Federal laws, allow informants to bring cases against companies they believe are defrauding the government. For example, if a medical facility were fraudulently billing TennCare for services rendered, an employee who reported the practice would be protected under the law. The informant would also be entitled to a portion (typically 15-25%) of any recovered damages. In one such case, the whistleblower received a settlement of $525,000.[6]

If you feel like you have been fired unjustly don’t wait, contact us today. There may be various statutes of limitation that apply to your case.

Tim Roberto
The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto

[1] Harney v. Meadowbrook Nursing Center, 784 S.W.2d 921, 922 (Tenn. 1990)

[2] Attempting to exercise a statutory right includes, for example, the filing of an employment discrimination claim. In other words, an employer cannot lawfully terminate an employee on the basis that the employee complained of sexual harassment in the workplace. This law, and the like provision under Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304, protects employees that report (e.g. whistleblowing) or refuse to participate in illegal activities in the workplace.

[3] Bright v. MMS Knoxville, Inc., 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 510, 8-9.

[4] This law may be found at Tennessee Revised Statutes Title 50-1-304.

[5] Bright v. MMS Knoxville, Inc., 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 510, 8-9 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2007); Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304; Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 4-18-101 et. seq.; Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 71-5-181 et. seq.

[6] http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/February/10-civ-171.html.

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