According to a recent news article from the Los Angeles Times, an employee who was fired from a prominent aerospace company filed a lawsuit against his employer claiming that his employer wrongfully terminated him. Unfortunately for this employee, a California jury did not agree with his claims, and a verdict was returned in favor of his former employer.
While California is an employment at will state, meaning that an employer can fire an employee for any reason and at any time without a showing of good cause, there are certain exceptions to this rule. One exception would be where the employee (possibly through a union collective bargaining agreement) has a contract that requires a showing of good cause to terminate the employee.Another reason that an employer cannot simply terminate an employee is in retaliation for complaining of an actual problem or being what is known as a whistle blower. As our Orange County employment lawyers can explain, if someone reports a problem that the company is ignoring, and that problem should be known to a particular agency or regulator, that employer cannot terminate employee for so doing. If fact, this would be considered a retaliatory termination, and this not allowed under state and federal law. These laws are known as whistle blower protection laws.
In this case, the employee had worked for employee for four years. His job included testing components designed for a new space rocket under testing and development for NASA and private companies to launch satellites into space. Employee claimed he discovered the company was deviating from standard testing methods and falsifying records. He said technicians were under pressure to sign off on these tests even though they were flawed, and the techs had full knowledge of this.
He claimed that when he reported these issues to his employer, he was told they would investigate the matter but never took any action. He was subsequently fired from his job. At trial, the jury heard from other employees who said they were not aware of falsifying of records. The company, through its counsel, also argued that he was terminated for poor performance and attitude issues.
The trial judge instructed the jury that it was not up to them to decide whether the company actually followed correct testing procedures or not, as this was an employment case in the Los Angeles Superior Court and not a contract action between the company and prospective purchaser or their rockets.
While this instruction makes sense on some levels, and would limit the need for engineers to testify as expert witnesses, when a company makes the argument that they were not falsifying records, it could be said to have opened the door to issues pertaining to whether there was actually a problem with the testing methodology. If this case is appealed, as many cases are, it is likely that would be an issue for appeal, if in fact, trial counsel preserved this objection for the record during the jury trial.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Former SpaceX employee says he was fired for raising concerns about falsified tests, but a jury disagrees, June 7, 2017, By Samantha Masunaga, LA Times
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