My husband may have been wrongfully terminated


New Member
Sorry in advance about the length. I'm posting on behalf of my husband:

I worked as an engineering lab manager for a local community college, just over 2 and a half years. I carried out my duties in an exemplary manner according to all of my students, superiors, and employees.

During my tenure there, a couple of tragic events happened, including my grandmother sadly dying of cancer in the spring of 2018, and my father committing suicide later that summer, resulting in a flare up of my anxiety disorder. While my work was not as up to par as it once once, I still received a highly positive performance review during 2018.

Since I have to keep this relatively short, I had some issues with my performance and my supervisor placed me on probation twice over the past year. I was able to deal with both times successfully, but my supervisor had begun meeting with my lab staff behind my back to ask them how they felt about me.
These meetings made them uncomfortable and basically ruined the strong rapport I had formed with my staff.

Things came to a head on July 2nd, when a non-employee (volunteer) accidentally posted illicit material on Google Drive account that I created, and was discovered by one of my employees, who went directly to my supervisor instead of me, to inform him of the incident. Since I was no way involved in the posting of the materials, and the HR and IT department could not find any standing rules or duties I had broken as the manager of the drive, I was found to be not responsible, but had been placed on administrative leave for 5 weeks while they conducted their investigation. Upon being reinstated, I was immediately placed back on probation and my supervisor requested that I come up with a number of elements to be included in a new improvement plan, and my employment status was once again returned to "at will".

Last week I missed a few days due to anxiety-induced illness. Without getting into graphic detail, it was stomach-related. My supervisor asked for a doctor's note, and although I could not supply one, I told him I had an appointment scheduled for this Friday. He seemed to be very empathetic and let me know he also had anxiety at a certain point in his life that impacted his work and family life.

The next day I was fired.

The reason given was that a member of my lab staff disclosed that I had been vaping on campus. There is no evidence of this occurring (there are cameras everywhere) and I have only used the vape while driving to and from work, strictly off campus.

During the meeting g with HR and my supervisor, it came to light that my supervisor had known that I had my vape with me all the time, and had only now decided to bring this to the attention of HR. Despite the fact that I had not even brought the vape device to campus during my second performance review, taking extra precautions not to endanger my employment status any further.

I had notified my supervisor on Monday (July 29th) that I had been seeking attention for my anxiety disorder and had asked for sick leave for Friday Augist 2nd. I had received no response for my request to leave, and instead received a cryptic text from my supervisor on Wednesday about a "time sensitive meeting" that morning. In retrospect, I believe he referred to this meeting g as time sensitive because by terminating me by July 31st, the institution was able to withdrawal my health insurance benefits by July 31st. Ensuring I would not be employed when I spoke to a doctor, receiving a current diagnosis as to my anxiety condition and its possible impact.

So my place of work is firing me based on nothing but hearsay, suspiciously after I had disclosed to my supervisor that I had a generalized anxiety disorder (which is documented as I had been diagnosed with it in the past, although recent life events and work stress had aggravated my symptoms). They were also very insistent that I sign a paper that would grant me a meager two weeks severance pay, and would prevent them from receiving further legal action.

I have until Wednesday, August 7th to de side whether to sign this letter of resignation and accept this severance pay, so I am in urgent need of legal counsel as to whether I have a case for wrongful termination.

I am not sure if any of this is legal or not but I wanted to find out if there is anything I can do about this. I moved my entire family closer to work and now I have to figure out how to provide for my wife and two children.

Thank you for reading and I appreciate any help you be able to provide.
Specifically, what law do you believe is being broken by terming you? Keeping in mind that hearsay matters only in a court of law and not always there.
I am not sure if any of this is legal or not but I wanted to find out if there is anything I can do about this. I moved my entire family closer to work and now I have to figure out how to provide for my wife and two children.

Most private (i.e. non-government) employment in the U.S. is "at will." Originally that term meant that both employer and employee are free to terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason. However, in the last 50 years federal and state laws have changed that just a bit so that today the rule for the employer is that the employer may fire an employee for any reason except for a relatively few reasons that the law prohibits.

The prohibited reasons include firing you because:

  • of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, or genetic test information under federal law (some states/localities add a few more categories like sexual orientation);
  • you make certain kinds of reports about the employer to the government or in limited circumstances to specified persons in the employing company itself (known as whistle-blower protection laws);
  • you participate in union organizing activities;
  • you use a right or benefit the law guarantees you (e.g. using leave under FMLA);
  • you filed a bankruptcy petition;
  • your pay was garnished by a single creditor; and
  • you took time off work to attend jury duty (in most states).
The exact list of prohibited reasons will vary by state.

So the employer didn't need a good reason to fire your husband if this school is a private institution. All that matters is whether he was fired for one of those reasons that the law prohibits, like those things I listed above.

If the real reason was indeed the report by another employee that the other employee saw you vaping on campus that would be a legal termination for a private employer because no law protects vaping at work or on the employer's premises. The employer doesn't have to be right that your husband actually did vape on campus. If the employer thought it was true or even thought it might have been true, that's good enough. The key thing is that the reason wasn't one of the ones that the law prohibits, like your husbands race, color, sex, religion, etc.

Note that hearsay as that term is used in the law is rule of evidence that prevents admission in court of most statements that were made outside of court. So, for example, the co-worker testifying in court that she saw your husband vaping on campus would not be hearsay because she is testifying as to what she saw him do, not relating some statement that was made outside court. But if the co-worker testified that "Amy told me she saw Brian vaping on campus" that would be hearsay because now the co-worker is not testifying about what she herself saw but rather a statement that Amy made to her. In that situation Amy would need to get on the stand to testify about what she saw Brian do. The hearsay rule does not apply outside of court. Even if it did, though, the co-worker telling the employer that she saw your husband vape on campus would not be hearsay because she is telling the employer what she herself saw, not what some other employee told the co-worker.