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Timing of termination matters to claims of retaliation

The law could view a California employer as retaliating against an employee if the company terminates the person's employment only a short time after the person engages in protected activity. A ruling from a federal appeals court illustrates this concept of temporal proximity, which indicates that one action caused another action soon thereafter.

In the case, the plaintiff had claimed that his employer violated his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act and retaliated against him for taking vacations while recovering from shoulder surgery. A district court ruled against him on both charges, but the appeals court validated his claim of retaliation. The court based its decision on the fact that he had lost his job only one month after his last day on leave. The company had claimed that the man's vacation photographs on social media had negatively effected co-workers. The company could not, however, identify anyone harmed by the social media messages, and the court suspected that the employer used undocumented claims of workplace disruption as a pretext for firing the man.

Because his lawfully taken medical leave might have caused the retaliatory act of job termination, the appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for trial. An employer with undocumented reasons for firing a person could be vulnerable to legal actions if the dismissal occurred not long after lawful actions that an employer disliked.

A person experiencing discrimination for taking family leave might have many variables to consider before taking legal action. An attorney could evaluate the circumstances that led to the leave and job loss and prepare a lawsuit if the employer appeared to violate employment laws. An attorney could organize records like medical records and communications from the employer to build the case. Damages sought could include back pay or reinstatement to a position.

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